DeMarcus Ware’s retirement ends one of top defensive careers in PFF era

The ex-Cowboy and Bronco put an end to what should be a Hall of Fame career Monday. Analyst John Kosko looks back on a strong career.

| 3 months ago
DeMarcus Ware

(John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

DeMarcus Ware’s retirement ends one of top defensive careers in PFF era


Edge rusher DeMarcus Ware, the PFF-era active sack leader, took the “active” out of that phrase Monday afternoon, announcing his retirement via Twitter. Ware is hanging up the cleats after an extremely impressive 12-year career split between the Dallas Cowboys (2005-2013) – the team that drafted him No. 11 overall – and the Denver Broncos – the team that he helped lead to a Super Bowl victory. The Pro Football Focus era dates back to 2006, so all of his stats stated will refer to his career from 2006-2016 and always include the playoffs.

In his first season in the PFF era, Ware made his presence known on the field and in the grading, as he was the No. 2-graded edge defender in 2006, racking up 14 sacks, 12 hits and 51 hurries on just 460 pass-rush snaps. Ware wouldn’t fall out of the top four of edge defender grades for the next five seasons and didn’t see his first “down” season until 2012 — and even then he graded as the No. 12 pass-rusher that season.

Over a seven-year stretch of his career from 2006 to 2012, Ware didn’t dip below 14 sacks per season and had two seasons with 20 sacks each. No other edge rusher in the PFF era has had two 20-sack seasons, and no one can touch his totals of 148 sacks and 711 total pressures, either.

A nine-time Pro Bowler and a four-time first-team All-Pro, Ware terrorized opposing quarterbacks and offensive tackles better than anyone while he was a Dallas Cowboy. His play took an understandable decline once he hit the age of 30 and joined the Denver Broncos. In his first season in Denver, Ware’s 8.44 pass-rushing productivity hit a career low, as did his pass-rushing grade.

(John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Fortunately for Ware, his dominant play made a return for the Broncos’ generationally great defense to carry Peyton Manning off into the sunset, as he graded as the No. 6 in pass-rushing in 2015. During the regular season, Ware missed five games due to injury and struggled initially when he returned. When the Broncos needed him most, Ware put on arguably the best stretch of games in his career. From Week 17 through the Super Bowl, Ware racked up four sacks, 8 hits and 19 hurries.

Ware was able to win in a variety of ways with a rare blend of power, quick hands, instincts and explosion off the line. The former Troy Trojan frequently won with speed around the edge as his first step was often too quick for offensive tackles to defend. He’d use that speed to set up several counter moves and pair that with relentless effort to finish at the quarterback.

In 2008, Ware had a 20-sack, 12-hit season. Not only did Ware top all defenders in sacks, he led all edge defenders in defensive stops with 63. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Ware topped double-digit sacks in nine of his 12 seasons and had double-digit QB hits in seven of his 11 PFF seasons. A sure tackler, Ware missed just 43 tackles in his PFF career, averaging just under 4 per season. Compare that to one of the best edge rushers of the past few years: New York Giants’ Olivier Vernon has missed 42 in his 5 seasons including a whopping 36 the last three seasons.

Ware leaves the game as the PFF era sack leader by a large margin, with Carolina Panthers’ Julius Peppers well behind him with 115 sacks amassed since 2006. The world will have to wait five years until Ware’s Canton enshrinement, but he gave the NFL viewers 12 impressive years of edge defender play.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • crosseyedlemon

    Steve Smith is wondering why there was no article about his retirement.