IRVING, Texas – I'm not here to compare the stats or the legacies of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.
If we're looking back at their contributions to the franchise since they joined up with the Cowboys in 2005, and 2006, it's not even close. Ware has 90 more sacks, 371 more tackles, 98 more starts and six more Pro Bowl selections.
One guy is a Ring of Honor-type guy, the other isn't.
If we're just talking about 2014, though – a season in which the Cowboys might retain either Hatcher or Ware but almost certainly not both? I'm starting to think Jason Hatcher might be the more viable player to keep for the future.
For starters, Hatcher is likely the more affordable of the two players. The endless speculation about Ware's future, which was aided by owner/general manager Jerry Jones' speculation at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, is due largely to the fact that he's slated to cost the Cowboys $16 million this year.
Even if Ware is agreeable to the oft-discussed idea of a pay cut, the drop in pay probably wouldn't drop him too far down the team's list of highest-earning players.
The free agency market is going to determine Hatcher's worth, but the price for a 32-year-old defensive tackle with one year of top-notch play on his resume might not be back-breaking.
Furthermore, we know what Hatcher can do in the 4-3 system defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will be looking to improve this year. Hatcher was a serviceable lineman in the old 3-4 defense – he started 27 total games and accumulated 16 sacks in seven seasons.
In one year as a 4-3 three-technique tackle, he started 15 games and notched 11 sacks. Obviously, that's unexpected production for almost any defensive tackle. But we know now that Hatcher is capable of much better production at this position, and with this defensive coordinator.
Ware has battled the full spectrum of injuries in the past two seasons, as both a 3-4 linebacker and a down 4-3 defensive end. In his first season with Marinelli, his six sacks were less than half of his career average and his 28 total tackles was the lowest total of his career.
The different nature of the positions may make things harder on Ware as he ages. He battled similar injury issues in 2012, in the 3-4 scheme, and still posted a respectable 11 sacks.
Finally, I think the need might be more immediate. The Dallas defense was bad across the board last year. The pass rush was bad, which in turn made the secondary vulnerable. The rushing defense was bad, partly thanks to the loss of Sean Lee.
I think Hatcher makes a bigger impact in both areas. He's clearly shown an aptitude for blowing up the pocket and rushing the passer. In the interior of the defensive line, he's also able to help clog up the running lanes and protect the Cowboys' linebackers from a battering.
On top of that, if the Cowboys bring back their Pro Bowl three-technique, it lessens the odds they'll spend their No. 16 on another defensive tackle – like Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan, for instance. That pick, and others, could then be spent improving the outside pass rush at a much cheaper cost.
It's not an easy conclusion to come to, as Ware is one of the all-time great players in franchise history, but I think his linemate might mean more to the Cowboys' odds of winning in 2014.