Extension for 2008 NFL sack leader

Updated: October 27, 2009, 10:28 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- When contract talks started between Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and the team, the sides were far apart.

Ware wanted to be paid like a quarterback and receive close to $50 million guaranteed.

"We were asking for a lot more money than we ended up settling on, and we got some clarity with the [Eli] Manning deal and the [Philip] Rivers deal," Ware's agent Pat Dye said Monday. "And ultimately [the Cowboys] convinced us they were not going to pay DeMarcus like an elite quarterback and we understood that, and again the fact they were doing it now, as opposed to March with a franchise tag sitting there, that's what made it so compelling."

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Ware

On Monday, Ware signed a six-year contract extension through 2015 worth $78 million, with $40 million guaranteed. The deal includes a $20 million signing bonus. The Cowboys gave Ware an additional $5 million for the 2009 season, increasing his base salary to $6.005 million.

He will be paid $45 million in base salaries and bonuses in the first three years of the deal, the most in league history for a player who is not a quarterback.

Two deals over the summer caught the attention of Ware and Dye. Manning, quarterback of the New York Giants, signed a six-year extension worth $97.5 million, with $35 million guaranteed. The San Diego Chargers signed Rivers, their quarterback, to a six-year extension worth $92 million that gives him between $38-$39 million guaranteed.

But Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones wasn't moving toward such a deal for Ware. How could he, given that in 2007 he signed his quarterback, Tony Romo, to a six-year deal worth $67.4 million?

"We've got to run a team, Pat knew that and we said that," said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys executive vice president who handled Ware's contract talks with his father. "We can't do things that are irresponsible. We're certainly not going to be a team that's going to step up and pay a defensive player like a quarterback. We're just not going to do that."

Contract talks with Ware started in March at the Senior Bowl, and the Cowboys were blown away by Ware's asking price. The two sides didn't talk for six weeks before Manning and Rivers signed. Dye called Stephen Jones again over the summer.

But nothing really happened until the bye week in mid October, and this time there was progress.

Meanwhile, Ware was struggling to record a sack after leading the league with 20 in 2008. He was battling a stress fracture in his left foot, but he picked up two sacks against Kansas City on Oct. 11.

There was a belief that Ware was too fixated on contract negotiations.

"I think just being beat up weighs on you during the season," Ware said. "The contract talks with me, even now, I know it just happened, I was talking to Stephen and I said, 'I'm ready to get back to work and get this over with.' I work really hard and I feel like I'm deserving of it. It didn't weigh on me during the season."

There were still issues to consider.

Dallas wanted a seven-year deal, but Ware wanted six. If things fell apart, the Cowboys could have just franchised him for three more years. Dye hinted that it would have upset Ware so much that he may not have reported to training camp until he had to.

But the Cowboys and Ware finally worked out a deal and reached a handshake agreement Sunday. Before the game against the Atlanta Falcons, Jerry Jones approached Ware during warmups and told him he was proud to have him with the team for the long term.

After the win, Jones and Ware walked off the field together, smiling and laughing.

"He's a cornerstone player of this franchise and will be for a long time to come," Jerry Jones said.

Monday afternoon, Ware signed his contract.

Compared to deals for other defensive stars, Ware's contract is pretty impressive.

Washington Redskins nose tackle Albert Haynesworth tops the scale after signing a seven-year, $100 million deal, with $41 million guaranteed this offseason. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen signed a six-year, $74.5 million deal two years ago with $34 million guaranteed. Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs signed a six-year, $62.5 million contract this summer, with about $38.1 million guaranteed.

Since 2005, Ware has compiled 57 sacks, the most by any linebacker. Ware is also the fourth player in team history with three consecutive 10-sack seasons.

"I've been lucky to be around a lot of good ones," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said Monday regarding top pass rushers he's coached. "He's at the top of the class, and it doesn't take long to call the roll. You know that statement. He's very special that way. But he's an all-around player, and he plays the run well too. That's what you really like about him."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at calvin.watkins@espn3.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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