Cowboys release franchise sacks leader Ware

IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys released franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware on Tuesday, a salary cap move that owner Jerry Jones called “extremely difficult” after the worst season of the star pass rusher’s career.

Ware broke Harvey Martin’s 30-year-old franchise record for sacks in 2013, but got to the quarterback a career-low six times and missed games for the first time in his nine-year career with a thigh injury.

The 31-year-old Ware also had offseason elbow surgery and was set to count $16 million against the salary cup. His release saves about $7.4 million and gives Dallas about $9 million to spend at the moment.

“A decision like this, involving a man who is a cornerstone player in the history of your franchise, is extremely difficult,” Jones, also the team’s general manager, said in a statement announcing the decision just as free agency opened.

Jones didn’t rule out Ware returning after testing the market, but Ware has likely played his last down for an owner who always had a tough time letting aging superstars go.

“We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring,” Jones said in the statement.

When the Cowboys switched to a four-man defensive front last year, Ware became a defensive end with his hand on the ground closer to the offensive line rather than a stand-up outside linebacker who could get a faster start on the snap.

Still, Ware looked good in training camp and even intercepted a pass by Eli Manning on the first play of last season. But he never did find his form as a pass rusher after fading late in 2012 and finished third on the team in sacks behind Jason Hatcher and George Selvie, who wasn’t even on the roster when training camp started.

“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,” Jones said in the statement. “He is worthy of our greatest respect, and we want what is best for him and his family.”

A first-round pick under coach Bill Parcells in 2005, Ware finished with 117 sacks, three more than Martin. He set a club record with 20 sacks in 2008 during a seven-year streak of at least 10 sacks per season. The four-time All-Pro is ninth in club history with 710 tackles.

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