Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Camp Blog: DeMarcus Ware's Trip To The Top

13 days ago, DeMarcus Ware turned 31 years old.  If that isn't enough to make you feel old and a reminder of how quickly NFL careers can zoom by, then I don't know what will.

Ware has been - along with Jason Witten - the identifiable hero of this era and on the fast track to be in both the Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame when those two careers come to a close.  They are the coach's dream types that you never have to worry about and you just hope the younger players are smart enough to watch and learn every chance they get from the best in the business.

He is off to begin his 9th season and from the look of his form at camp so far, he appears destined to have another fantastic season.  And what does that mean for DeMarcus Ware?  Well, you can always start with the simple idea that aside from everything else, he will shock the league if he DOESN'T get double-digit sack totals.

Here are his year to year totals since being drafted in 2005:

2005 8.0
2006 11.5
2007 14.0
2008 20.0
2009 11.0
2010 15.5
2011 19.5
2012 11.5
Totals 111.0 

He just keeps chugging along.  His streak of 7 consecutive seasons with 10+ sacks is an active record in the NFL, and puts him in a rare class with Reggie White and Bruce Smith for that type of thing.

He is already 4th in the NFL in active career sacks, trailing just 3 players still in the league in John Abraham (122), Jared Allen (117), and Julius Peppers (111.5).  Those 3 all preceded Ware into the league and the closes player to Ware who entered the league at the same time as him?  Trent Cole has 71 career sacks - a full 40 behind Ware.

Allen actually has a current streak of 6 seasons of 10+ sacks, but Abraham's career high is 2 seasons in a row and Peppers has never done more than 3 straight.  And yet, Ware has done it every year since 2006 and is still at the top of his game.

But how long can that last?  Well, back in the spring, we played the hypothetical game of what would Ware be worth in a trade and found out about pass rushers after age 31:
History tells us that pass rushers can have great careers past 31. 
Bruce Smith had 94 sacks after his 31st birthday.  Reggie White, who was 31 when he signed in Green Bay, still had 74 more sacks after his 31st birthday.  Kevin Greene had 87.5 sacks after that birthday, too.  Chris Doleman had 74.5 starting with the season after turning 31.  Even Michael Strahan had 57 sacks beyond age 31.   
There is plenty of reason to believe, based on looking at the 5 best sackers of all-time that you can still do plenty of damage after the age of 31.  Running backs don't age well, but apparently there is still a lot of miles left for the elite guys at getting to the QB if they stay in great shape.  And Ware appears to be one of those for sure.  And if he puts up numbers like those 5 players, he will jump a few of them and make a run at the Bruce Smith's all-time number of 200.  He needs 89 more sacks.
Only 8 players in NFL history can boast having 8 seasons or more of 10+ sacks.  I don't mean consecutive seasons, but just 8 seasons at all.   The list of 10+ sack seasons in a career:

Bruce Smith - HOF 13
Reggie White - HOF  12
Kevin Greene  10
John Randle - HOF 9
Richard Dent - HOF 8
Chris Doleman - HOF  8
Leslie O'Neal 8
Simeon Rice  8
DeMarcus Ware and others  7      

As you can see, it seems odd that Kevin Greene cannot get into the Hall of Fame, given his accomplishments over the course of his awesome career.  But, he still has some time.  

I also find it interesting how he is right behind Simeon Rice.  Rice is a very under-rated player from the last 20 years as he spent the 2nd half of his career in Tampa Bay playing the exact spot in the Tampa-2 for Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli that Ware will now play from 2013-.  Rice had 57.5 sacks in 5 years for the Bucs from 2001-2005, so he the bar for DeMarcus is very high.

There are 2 significant questions that remain in this equation.  Who is going to effectively play the role of Warren Sapp in his prime?  It is one thing to say UFA-to-be Jason Hatcher (also 31 as he is actually 3 weeks older than Ware) is having a nice camp.  It is altogether different to say he is ready to do anything close to what Sapp did to the NFL during his time in Tampa.  Sapp was the gold standard for the 3-technique and no matter how hard you squint, it is impossible to see that the Cowboys will have that type of force.  

And remember, the Tampa-2 and much of what Kiffin preaches is based on the front 4 getting pressure and stopping the run by themselves.  This leaves 7 players for coverage and flying around making tackles.  But, if your 4 cannot whip their 5, then the defense falls apart.  And that is why we wonder if Tony Dungy was right when he argued that the Cowboys might need 2 drafts to get the personnel right to run this defense.  

I suppose that is why Sharrif Floyd is still in the back of everyone's mind who follows this team.  The Cowboys needed Travis Frederick to have a solid offense, but they also needed a young, quality 3-technique to be in an ideal position defensively.  Floyd is in Minnesota and they will bring him along behind Kevin Williams for now.  Meanwhile, the 2 interior players for the Cowboys are Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher with Sean Lissemore and Ben Bass behind them, it seems.  Is there a realistic view that sees that being disruptive enough to stress the opponent's OL?

The second significant question with the Ware topic goes back to the looming contract issues.  After 2013, he has 4 years and about $62 million remaining on his deal which includes a cap hit in 2014 for $16 million and in 2015 for $17.5 million.  With Tony Romo at $21.7m and $25.3m in those 2 years, you can see how a salary-cap stressed franchise is going to have to be creative to figure out the rest of the puzzle to make this all work out.  

But, beyond that, it is a fantastic luxury to have DeMarcus Ware on this franchise with plenty of good years in front of him.  The next time someone next to you argues that he is over-rated or the silly discussion that he doesn't get "big sacks", feel free to move to a different seat elsewhere.

He is an absolute legend.  

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