Team Report - DALLAS COWBOYS

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

Rather than make headlines with high-profile signings to kick off free agency Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was instead discussing the release of seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware.

The Cowboys, who are perennially tight against the cap, made the bold move of releasing Ware, the greatest pass rusher in team history, a future Ring of Honor member and potential future Hall of Famer.

He was released after refusing to take a pay cut from his scheduled $12.75 million salary for next season.

"A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult," Jones said in a statement.

"After meeting this afternoon, DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond. We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.

"DeMarcus Ware, through his performance on the field and his outstanding character, is someone who is held in the highest regard within the Dallas Cowboys family. He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family."

The Cowboys won't be an option after Ware quickly signed a $30 million contract with the Broncos.

The Cowboys will save $7.4 million against this year's cap with the move, money they could use to sign other players in free agency. They agreed to terms with Henry Melton March 18.

The Cowboys wanted to keep Ware, but they saw him as a declining player coming off a career low 6.0 sacks and an injury plagued-season in 2013.

Ware believes he will return to his dominant self after undergoing surgery last month to repair nerve damage in his elbow. He thinks he can get more money than the Cowboys were willing to pay him on free agent market.

In his nine years with the team, Ware earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances -- tied for the fourth-longest streak in team history -- and racked up seven straight seasons with 10 or more sacks (2006-12). Jared Allen (2007-13) is the only other league defender with seven consecutive 10-sack seasons since 2006.

In 2008, Ware established a club record and league-high 20.0 sacks, becoming only the seventh league defender to reach 20.0 in a season at the time and was named the 2008 NFC Defensive Player of the Year. En route to his 20.0 sacks in 2008, Ware put together a streak of 10 straight games (beginning in 2007) with at least one full sack, tying Simon Fletcher (1992-93) for the longest sack streak in NFL history.

Through his nine seasons in Dallas, Ware posted the top-four single-season sack figures by a club linebacker - before making the switch to defensive end in 2013 - and four of the top-five single-season figures by any club defender.

The biggest thing with the Ware decision is that the Cowboys may be finally trying to get their house in order financially. The team now has $8.5 million salary cap space.

Time will tell if this is the best move for the Cowboys in 2014, as they are clearly a better team with Ware on the field. But it's the proper and more prudent move for the Cowboys long term.

Someone at the team's Valley Ranch headquarters finally acted in the best interest of the bottom line with no regard to sentimentality.

They will be looking for cheaper and probably more productive options in free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.

The Cowboys will be home against Baltimore in Week 2 and Denver in Week 4, while going on the road to play San Diego in Week 1 and Miami in Week 3.

--Owner Jerry Jones said quarterback Tony Romo, who underwent back surgery in December, is ahead of schedule in his rehab.

Jones, at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., said Romo has not started throwing passes yet, but is expected to take part in the team's offseason program, which begins April 21.

"He is ahead of expectations. He is ahead of where we expected him to be," Jones said.

Romo had surgery to relieve the pressure of a herniated disk on Dec. 27, two days before the Cowboys' regular season ended with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17.

The starting quarterback has undergone two back procedures in the past year. Romo also had a cyst removed from his back last spring.

"You don't rebuild with Romo," Jones said. "The firepower we have on offense and where we are with our running backs, and our receivers -- you don't rebuild with an offense that's got the capability we've got. We didn't bring (Scott) Linehan in here to rebuild."

Linehan, the former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, was brought in to call the team's plays.

Head coach Jason Garrett is entering the final year of his contract. He has gone 8-8 in each of his three full seasons on the job.

--It would be an understatement to say that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was angry with what transpired last season with defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. Ratliff was on reserve/physically unable to perform and insisted he wasn't healthy enough to play, while rehabilitating away from the team facility.

Ultimately, the Cowboys released him in October only to have him be signed by the Bears and be medically cleared to play.

Jones hinted at legal action at the time, and now he said a complaint has been filed in which the team will seek the return part of the $10 million signing bonus he received in 2011 as well as some of the 2013 salary he received.

Jones said, "This type of conduct, unable to play for us one day and a few days later working out for another club, is undermining and needs to be addressed.'

There is normally a 50-day period in which a grievance can be filed, which is why Jones referred to it now as a complaint and revealed he is working with the NFL Management Council in determining the official course of action.

"There are other avenues,'' Jones said. "We're discussing those. And looking carefully in this case how it might fit in as a grievance. We're assessing the form and how to address that. We're working on it with direction from the NFL Management Council.''

--Free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton is headed to Dallas.

"Thank you chicago for the best 5 years of my life!.... I can't wait to begin the next chapter of my life... With a star on my helmet," Melton tweeted.

There is some uncertainty surrounding Melton, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012. He suffered a torn ACL last season, and played only three games.

In 48 career regular-season games with the Bears, Melton had 88 tackles, 15.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

With the Cowboys, Melton will be reunited with new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who served in the same position with the Bears.

In addition to recovering from ACL surgery, Melton has being sued for allegedly biting an owner of a Grapevine, Tex. bar in the back last December. Melton was arrested on charges of public intoxication and assault after being told to leave the bar.

His agent said the biting incident didn't happen and after signing with the Cowboys, Melton said in a radio interview, "It's just a bad situation that's getting blown up by people trying to have a money grab. Other than that, it's pretty much behind me. It's not anything that will affect me, especially my play, nothing that I have to do time for or anything like that. It's just people trying to get money."

--After leaving the Cowboys for the Redskins, defensive end Jason Hatcher said he was given no choice.

Hatcher said of the Cowboys, "They didn't show no signs that they wanted me back. I know the fans are upset. They should be. They have all the right in the world to be. But I made the right decision for me. If we could've made it work out we would've, but I'm in a great place with the Redskins, a great organization. I'm looking forward to getting back to football."

He added, "I just left a great organization. I really appreciate what (owner) Jerry Jones and his family did for me. The fans have always been behind me. Things change and you just got to take it in stride, take it all in and get back to playing football."

--Linebacker Will Herring, an unrestricted free agent from the Saints, agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Cowboys March 13. The next day, the Cowboys backed out of the deal, and agent George Mavrikes wasn't happy.

Mavrikes said he is "very angry" the Cowboys "reneged," while claiming they believed Herring "may be an injury risk." However, there was bno failed physical.

Mavrikes added, "He is healthier than 90 percent of the league. He hasn't missed a game or a practice the last two years and maybe missed five or so games in seven years, four because of a hamstring injury in his rookie year. It's crazy and makes no sense. He's the exact player Dallas needs."

Thursday, Herring tweeted, "Blessed to be playing in the Big D this year and to be a part of Cowboys organization!"

The next day, a tweet said, "The bad news is I'm not signing with Dallas. The good news is Jesus still sits on the throne! I hate it didn't work out. Wish them the best."

--The Cowboys released receiver Miles Austin Tuesday. He was designated as a post-June 1 cut. Cutting him after June 1 allows the Cowboys to save $5.5 million against the cap. It will be used to sign the rookie draft class. Austin, who turns 30 in June, is coming off his worst season with the Cowboys. Austin had only 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns in 11 games (eight starts) in 2013.

--The numbers are in on the contract signed by guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, who took a pay cut with a new two-year deal last Friday to keep his spot the roster and help the Cowboys get under the salary cap.

Per a source, Bernadeau had his base salary cut from $2.75 million in 2014 to $1.1 million. He saved the Cowboys $1.15 million against the cap.

In addition to his $1.1 million base salary, which was fully guaranteed, Bernadeau got a $500,000 signing bonus that will be paid on Thursday. He can make an additional $400,000 in incentives.

His 2015 salary was dropped from $3.25 million to $1.5 million. Of that, $400,000 is guaranteed and he can make another $1 million with play time incentives. The deal saved the Cowboys $1.75 million off the 2014 cap.

Bernadeau came out OK, considering that the Giants slashed former Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee's 2014 base salary from $7 million to $1.1 million.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--A report from ESPNDallas.com said linebacker Sean Lee has been cleared for offseason workouts, Lee's 2013 season ended early because of a torn ligament in his neck.

--The Cowboys agreed to terms with former Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden on a two-year contract.

ESPN.com reported that Weeden visited with the coaches at Valley Ranch on Monday. Weeden, who was released by the Browns last week, is expected to be the third quarterback under contract behind Tony Romo and Kyle Orton.

Weeden, the team's first-round draft pick in 2012, struggled in his two seasons with the Browns. He started 20 games but was replaced at the beginning of the 2013 season by Brian Hoyer, then returned as the starter when Hoyer was hurt before being replaced for the remainder of the season by veteran Jason Campbell.

The 30-year-old Weeden's record as a starter was 5-15. He threw for 5,116 yards, completing 55.9 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

TEAM NEEDS

--DEFENSIVE END: Anthony Spencer is coming off micro-fracture surgery and is a free agent and with the release of DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys need a pass rush end to make the 4-3 defense go. They signed Jeremy Mincey, but that's just a start.

--DEFENSIVE TACKLE: After stupidly passing on a defensive tackle in last year's draft, the Cowboys have no choice but to target one if not two in 2014. Jason Hatcher was the only one on the team with a pulse and he left for Washington. They added Terrell McClain, but more is needed.

--WIDE RECEIVER: Miles Austin was released and Dez Bryant is headed into the last year of his contract. He is also experiencing back troubles. Terrance Williams was solid as a rookie last year. But this position needs to be addressed again.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--RB Phillip Tanner (not tendered as RFA) could come back in a minimum deal.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--OL Ryan Cook was on injured reserve all year. His services as a backup guard/center are no longer needed.

--DE Edgar Jones has versatility but he will not be a high priority in free agency. The Cowboys need bodies at his position though.

--QB Jon Kitna was a late-season emergency addition. He will return to retirement.

--LB Ernie Sims' career in Dallas is over. The Cowboys will look at younger and cheaper options at linebacker.

--DE Anthony Spencer missed last season because of microfracture surgery. Will not get big money market. Could return on the cheap.

--OL Brian Waters does not want to come to training camp so Cowboys will move on.

--DE Jarius Wynn: UFA Bills; 1 yr, terms unknown.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--K Dan Bailey: Potential RFA; $22.5M/7 yrs, $4M SB/$6.6M guaranteed.

--P Chris Jones: Potential ERFA; $645,0001/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--DE Terrell McClain: Not tendered as RFA by Texans; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--DT Henry Melton: UFA Bears; $27.5M/4 yrs, $1.25M SB ($24M is in final three years).

--DE Jeremy Mincey: UFA Broncos; $4.5M/2 yrs, $2M guaranteed.

--QB Brandon Weeden: FA Browns; $1.23M/2 yrs.

PLAYERS LOST

--WR Mile Austin (released/post-June 1 designation).

--DE Everette Brown (released).

--C Phil Costa (released).

--DT Jason Hatcher: UFA Redskins; $27.5M/4 yrs, $9M SB/$10.5M guaranteed.

--DT Corvey Irvin (released).

--S Danny McCray: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--DE DeMarcus Ware (released).

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