In his first public comments since announcing his retirement, the former Bronco and Cowboy explains why he’s walking away from the NFL despite being healthy. Plus reader questions on Tony Romo, Tom Brady and more

By Peter King
March 14, 2017

DeMarcus Ware could have kept playing. He was working out, and he was over neck and back ailments that wrecked his 2016 season in Denver. Ware is 34, and he had a $9 million offer on the table for 2017 (he won’t say from which team, but Dallas is a best guess), and he felt he could have had the kind of reborn season that would satisfy the football devotee inside of him.

“You go through so much as a player to keep playing—for me lately, the neck injury, the back injury—and then you correct those things,” Ware told The MMQB Tuesday afternoon, a day after he finalized his emotional decision to retire from football.

“And right now as a I stand here, my body feels great. My body feels youthful. There is no question in my mind that I could have played two or three more years. But I’m realistic about it. My body’s good now, but how long will that last? How long can your body hold up at 34, 35, when what you do is likely to hurt yourself?”

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In other words, I said, you feel good now, but the way football is, there’s a good chance that something, on some part of the body, would flare up this season, and there’s no way you’d feel this good through an entire season.

“Now you see where I’m coming from,” Ware said. “How many times when I go through a full season do I feel great from start to finish? It’s hard. Football has been great for me. I love football. Always will. Heck yeah, I want to get out there and play. But I can’t let passion overrule my sense. I am walking away with respect. I gave the fans, I gave my family, I gave my teammates everything I had every game. One hundred percent. One … hundred … percent.”

DeMarcus Ware played 37 games over three seasons as a Bronco and recorded 21.5 sacks.
Icon Sportswire

But this was a surprise on Monday, when Ware broke the news, because he’d talked openly this off-season about playing in 2017 and beyond. Could he change his mind? It’s possible, but on Tuesday he sounded like a man secure with his decision. “It’s important for my family, and for my future,” he said. “But the decision was emotional. Very emotional. The ‘R’ word comes out of your mouth … and you get emotional. When you’re playing, you think the NFL’s forever. You think it’s never going to end.”

In nine seasons with Dallas, then three with Denver, Ware was one of the very small handful of premier edge rushers of the new century. He is eighth on the all-time sack list with 138.5, one behind 2017 Hall of Fame enshrinee Jason Taylor and three behind 2014 Hall of Fame enshrinee Michael Strahan. Taylor and Strahan played 15 seasons. Ware played 12.

Ware, too, leaves a legacy of treating people the right way. His former teammates in Dallas, and then in Denver, looked up to him about football and about life. “The Peyton Manning of our defense,” Emmanuel Sanders called Ware in a text to ESPN, and he didn’t mean just about football.

“The ‘R’ word comes out of your mouth … and you get emotional,” Ware says. “When you’re playing, you think the NFL’s forever. You think it’s never going to end.”

Ware had a terrific second act in Denver. Manning led the offense. Ware led the defense. In fact, on the night before Denver’s Super Bowl 50 victory over Carolina 13 months ago, it was Manning and Ware who were picked to speak emotionally to the Denver players. Both veterans’ voices cracked as they spoke that night. And the next day Ware had the last big game of his career, sacking Cam Newton twice in Denver’s 24-10 victory.

But when I asked about his greatest game, that’s not the one Ware brought up.

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He harked back to 2009. It was December. The Cowboys, losers of two straight, were 8-5 and traveling to New Orleans on a Saturday night on national TV—and the Saints were 13-0. “We played San Diego the previous week, and honestly I thought I broke my neck.” Ware’s head collided violently with a Chargers offensive lineman’s hip, and he lay on the ground, and he had to be carted off the field on a backboard. “They took my face mask off, and the helmet, and they were so careful. And after the game, my guys were there, telling me my health is important and You don’t have to play. 

“So we go to New Orleans, I was in the locker room, and I could just feel it. In football, you’ve got to understand—you don’t play for yourself. You play for your teammates. That’s how I’ve always been. And no one said anything to me, but I could feel it. D-Ware, we need you to play. I hadn’t had pads on the whole week. We needed this game to have a chance to make the playoffs. Before the game, I go up to [fullback Deon Anderson] with my helmet on. We bump heads, just to test it, and I feel fine. That gave me confidence.”

Two sacks, two forced fumbles, two Saints turnovers. Dallas 24, New Orleans 17. The Cowboys went on to win the NFC East.

“That day was big for me,” Ware said. “I was captain of the defense, but I gained even more respect from my teammates. Like, This guy’s the warrior we knew he was. And respect is everything to me. I put my team first.”

And today? “Now, I put myself first. I put my family first. And look out world. Here I come.”

Now for your email:

• A FREE AGENCY FREE-FOR-ALL: In Monday Morning QB, Peter King examines the first frenzied days of signings, trades and much more

* * *

If the Texans want to get their hands on Tony Romo, patience likely is the best policy.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A ROMO TRADE

Please explain how it makes sense for Rick Smith to not trade for Tony Romo. The window for his championship-level defense and bona fide No. 1 wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins will not be open forever. It is madness for the Texans to enter 2017 with Tom Savage as their top QB. I get that it is not smart to pay for something that will be available for free soon (or at least before the first week of the season). But will Romo really be free? Your MMQB article this week hints about how much Denver will pursue Romo if he is on the street. Why not trade a conditional 2019 draft pick that would be no higher than a third-round pick based on health and success criteria?  At this point in time, the Cowboys and Romo would jump on this deal. With the Texans trying to emulate everything the Patriots do, isn't trading for players the it thing?

—Brian S.

Trading a draft pick for a 37-year-old quarterback and paying him at least $14 million this year, after you’ve already surrendered a second-round pick to get rid of the last quarterback you erred on, is not good business. Also, guaranteeing Romo’s big salary this year after he hasn’t been able to stay healthy is not smart when your team is in a tight cap situation already. Have some patience. Opening day is 25 weeks away. Training camp is 19 weeks away. The first day Romo could work out with teammates in Houston is five weeks away. There’s no reason to rush this.

• TEN THOUGHTS ON FREE AGENCY: Andrew Brandt on the Moneyball trade, the Romo situation, the D.C. mess and much more

UNDER-THE-TABLE-GATE?

I’ve always wondered about Tom Brady accepting a reduced salary in order for the Patriots to be able to pay other players. After Spygate, Deflategate and other ‘gates,’ has nobody ever considered a possible ‘Under-the table-gate’ for Tom?

—Greg M.

I’ve heard that floated before. My reaction to that is the same as my reaction to all forms of cheating in every sport: Give me some evidence, and then we’ll talk about it. No one’s ever proved the existence of under-the-table payments or agreements with star players to keep their cap numbers down. It’s convenient to do with New England, because the Patriots have been whipping boys by the league, and I get that. But I’ve never heard anything more than bar talk about it with Brady, and not any other player.

WASHINGTON’S CIRCUS

In regards to Dan Snyder, to paraphrase you, can anyone stop this runaway train before it’s too late? I think Washington fans would love the NFL to force Snyder to sell. Can it be legally done?

—Benoit P., Laval, Québec

No. Not unless he violates the law, or league bylaws.

• THE EMERGENCE OF DAVIS WEBB: Emily Kaplan on the latest draft quarterback to enter the Round 1 conversation

KYLE JUSZCZYK

Not sure one solid play warrants San Francisco’s huge signing of Kyle Juszczyk. To me it really sounds like John Lynch made a HUGE mistake and he might be in over his head, if his first dip in the pool is a harbinger of things to come. Being smart with your money is part of a GM’s job. So far his record isn’t that good.

—Murray G.

We’ll see. How interesting is it that another team actually offered more; I’m told $6 million a year.

CUTLER AS A JET

As a Jets fan … Jay Cutler: Why bother? So Bowles can keep his job. Ugh! They will win at most seven games with Cutler. Why would he choose the Jets, other than the money? They have NO offensive line and the team probably is bottom five in overall talent.

—Andy, Philadelphia

Every year, musical chairs happen for veteran quarterbacks, and some passers go to places that seem to make no sense. If he gets an offer, Cutler would choose the Jets if he wants to keep playing and if it’s his best option to start in 2017. Pretty simple.

ON TERRELLE PRYOR

If letting Terrelle Pryor walk was as dumb of Cleveland as you seem to think, why couldn’t his ‘top-notch’ agent do better than a one-year deal for $6 million (with $2 million in incentives classified as ‘not likely to be achieved’)? Maybe the Browns made a mistake, but maybe not as obvious as your analysis implies, eh?

—Peter G.

My point about Pryor: We can think of all the reasons why it’s not Cleveland’s fault that he is not a Brown anymore. He was unreasonable in his demands, yes. He left significantly more money on the table in Cleveland, yes. But Taylor Gabriel, Mitchell Schwartz and Terrelle Pryor are winning players in any NFL program. The Browns need winning players. In my opinion, the fans of the Browns need to stop knee-jerk defending their team every time one of these players leave and wonder why above-average to very good NFL players are developed in Cleveland and go on to star in other places. It’s getting to be a trend.

MAISON DU WAFFLE

Longtime reader here, and I loved the shoutout to Waffle House this week. Went on a dream trip from Nashville to Austin last October with three buddies through five southern states. Loved every minute of it but what pains me most is that I may never eat at Waffle House again. What a place.

—Alan O., Ireland

Crazy thing about my affection for Waffle House: I really like the waffles, but I rarely order one. It’s the scrambled eggs with cheese, with raisin toast and the hash browns, that I get every time.

STOP WITH THE POLITICS  

We really don’t care about your political opinions. Please stick to sports. When I’m reading or listening to sports, I want to be an ostrich. I want to stick my head in the sand and concentrate on sports.

—Wilford W.

I have explained this before, and I will do it here again. I have just finished my 20th year writing this column. At the start of it, my editor, Steve Robinson, asked me to use it as a way to empty out my reporter’s notebook from the week, and then—because at the time Sports Illustrated wanted its magazine writers to steer clear of opinionated copy—put my own opinions, about everything, in the column. I liked it, and the responses I got suggested that readers liked it. Some readers do not like me opining about politics. Here’s a factoid for you: In my past four columns, I’ve written 29,946 words, and 362 were my opinion of what’s happening in Washington. So 1.2 percent of my words in the past month have been about politics. I get it that you and many others would like that to be 0.0 percent. I am respectful of your wishes, but I’m not going to stop giving an opinion about politics in a column that for two decades has had more words about football than any other writer in America. It’s easy to skip the parts of the column you don’t like.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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