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Breaking Out: Will DeMarcus Lawrence Become Too Expensive for Cowboys?

Jess Haynie

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With 3.5 sacks in just his first two games of 2017, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is on his way to a breakout season. With his rookie contract expiring this year, what does this mean for his financial future and his potential to remain with the Dallas Cowboys?

Big things have always been expected for Lawrence, who Dallas who with the 34th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Dallas surrendered their third-round pick that year to Washington to move up 13 spots and draft DeMarcus. While he didn't have to be Reggie White or even DeMarcus Ware to live up that investment, the Cowboys certainly expected him to become a key part of their defense.

DeMarcus Lawrence

DE DeMarcus Lawrence

It's been a rough three years to start Lawrence's career. A foot injury in the 2014 training camp took half of his rookie season and kept him as a limited rotation player once he returned. He did make a grand showing the playoffs that year, though, with the memorable sack and fumble plays against the Lions that helped seal victory.

In 2015 Lawrence again had a slow start but then came on in the second half of the season, getting seven sacks in the final eight games. That flourish had everyone excited for the breakout season to come in 2016, but a four-game suspension for PED use and ongoing back problems held Lawrence to just nine games played, only three as a starter, and zero sacks.

Going into 2017 unfettered by any off-field drama and as healthy as he's been, Lawrence seems ready to finally live up to the hype. The results are obvious over two weeks; he's already more than halfway to matching last year's team-high of six sacks posted by Benson Mayowa.

Even if his production drops to more normal levels, he still looks ready to have double-digit sacks on the year. Lawrence would be the first Cowboy to accomplish that since Jason Hatcher (11 sacks) in 2013. In case you're wondering, DeMarcus Ware has the all-time high with 20 sacks in 2008.

5 Takeaways From Cowboys Win VS Giants

DE DeMarcus Lawrence takes down Giants QB Eli Manning (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

If this proves to be a breakout season for DeMarcus Lawrence then it shouldn't be all that surprising. He has the magic elixir that is an expiring contract, which consistently seems to push athletes to new heights regardless of the sport they play.

As a second-round pick, DeMarcus is not subject to the fifth-year team option that can be used on players taken in the first round. Unless the Cowboys work out a contract extension beforehand, Lawrence will be an unrestricted free agent when the 2018 market opens.

A 26-year-old pass rusher (Lawrence turns 26 in April) is about as attractive as it gets in NFL free agency. Only a franchise quarterback is clearly more desirable. If the DeMarcus Lawrence we're seeing right now is the same guy come December and January, he stands to get about as lucrative a contract as a defensive player can get.

Last year, 27-year-old Chandler Jones signed a five-year, $83 million deal to stay with the Arizona Cardinals. Jason Pierre-Paul, despite his nubs, got $62 million over four years from the Giants. Melvin Ingram got the same contract from the Chargers.

Lawrence will be a year or two younger than these guys and has all ten fingers. He should be able to command at least what Chandler Jones did. He won't make Von Miller money (six years, $115 million), but he could easily land somewhere in the middle.

DeMarcus Lawrence

DE DeMarcus Lawrence (James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)

Would the Cowboys, who have moved to a much more fiscally conservative business model over the last few years, be willing to pay market value for DeMarcus Lawrence? Even if they can afford it against the salary cap, would other assets at defensive end give them motivation to allow Lawrence to walk?

Dallas just spent a first-round pick on Taco Charlton. They would still have two more years on Charles Tapper's contract, who may have his own breakout before 2017 is over. There's also still David Irving to consider, who will be a Restricted Free Agent next season and give Dallas more leverage to retain him.

As we've already outlined, Lawrence could be one of the most attractive free agent pass rushers to hit free agency in a while. That attraction applies just as much to the Cowboys, though, as anyone. Give his young age, they may be more willing to pay top dollar than they have recently with other veterans who were closer to their 30s.

These are obviously questions to be answered down the road, but every step along that road can change the equation. At the very least, a breakout season for DeMarcus Lawrence is a tremendous boon for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys and their quest to get past the second round of the playoffs. If he becomes too expensive for the Cowboys to keep, Lawrence must have had a pretty fantastic season. We can only hope.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. John Williams

    John Williams

    September 25, 2017 at 3:36 am

    This is absolutely going to be the most difficult decision for the Dallas front office in the offseason.

    They seem to be ok with paying certain home grown players while allowing others to leave. I wonder if Lawrence’s desire to stay in Dallas will help them work something out that allows him to get a good-sized guarantee up front while allowing them long-term flexibility if his play falls off.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      September 25, 2017 at 8:05 am

      It’s a big dilemma, for sure. They got burned badly not long ago with Anthony Spencer’s contract year. I wonder if that will stick in their minds when dealing with Lawrence.

      • John Williams

        John Williams

        September 30, 2017 at 4:34 am

        Absolutely true. I also wonder if they’ll see it differently, because their isn’t a DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff on the line helping him.

        Sure Maliek Collins is super disruptive, but it’s not like they have another player on the opposite side garnering much attention.

        I could see the franchise tag in Lawrence’s future.

  2. Larry Clutter

    September 25, 2017 at 5:38 am

    Amazing how ALL players seem to be their best in a contract season. They play better, they play hurt, they dont get suspended for drug use (DeMarcus Lawrence), and they are not the same person that was being overpaid all the years before. Case in point. DeMarco Murray. Nuff said!

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      September 25, 2017 at 8:04 am

      It’s a universal truth and it goes well beyond the NFL. We’d like to think “the love of the game” is all a guy needs, but that’s just not realistic.

  3. frank orick

    September 30, 2017 at 4:27 am

    well if you have been a Cowboys fan as long as I have then you know that Jerry Jones has been salivating for a war Daddy type rusher,and he has taken some bold chances in free agency not to mention some heart breakerd in the draft. I do believe he will pay almost anything for that missing piece we havnt had since Demarcus Ware.A championship caliber sack master that can help the Cowboys make a deep playoff run,”Tank” Lawrence is on Pace to crush the season record (20 plus),and be the first Cowboy since Ware to have over 15 sacks in a single season,with 6.5 through 3games,it seems all he needs to do is stay healthy,With teamates coming off suspensions last week (demontre moore)and more help coming in these next few weeks and it will be hard to double team every one.I see were haters or anyone for that matter can say he has only went up against su par right tackles and he hasnt went up against any one of playoff Calibre or faced constant double teams,but there is no doubting he is red hot,and in a contract year none the less with alot too prove…

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When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.

In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.

According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.

During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...

...of his offensive lineman.

During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.

As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.

It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.

With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.



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5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

Brian Martin

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5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season 2

I know we are all still little disappointed with the way the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season ended, but if we are completely honest with ourselves it ended a lot better than we initially thought it would. With the season officially over, it's time to start the evaluation process to see what went wrong and what right this past year.

I don't know about you, but I started the evaluation process a lot earlier this year than I have in years past. That is why today I want to share with you five of the Dallas Cowboys players who I believe had a fantastic 2018 season and five that unfortunately didn't quite live up to expectations.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that I tried to stray from pointing out the obvious, especially in the stud category. Instead I went with players who kind of came out of nowhere to have a really good season. I thought that would make it a little more enjoyable instead of pointing out the obvious. I hope you enjoy.

✭ Dallas Cowboys 2018 Studs ✭

Byron Jones

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones

CB, Byron Jones

Byron Jones completely turned around his career this season with the Dallas Cowboys after being moved from safety to cornerback, his more natural position. Many had him pegged as a first-round bust, but he definitely quieted his critics by making his first Pro Bowl and becoming a Second-team All-Pro. I would say that qualifies as stud status.

The Predator and Wolf Hunter

You can't really mention one and leave out the other, which is why you're getting a two-for-one special here with Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. This dynamic duo arguably played like the best LBs in the league, although it's Vander Esch who has received the majority of the attention and got the Pro Bowl not as a replacement. Both definitely had Pro Bowl caliber seasons and that alone speaks volumes to how they played in 2018.

C, Joe Looney

No one could've possibly predicted the kind of season Dallas Cowboys backup Guard/Center Joe Looney would have in 2018 after replacing Travis Frederick in the starting lineup. He became somewhat of an afterthought this past season, which is pretty impressive in itself considering he was replacing one of the best centers in the league. What's even more impressive is the fact he played every single snap on offense. No other Cowboys player accomplished that feat on either side of the ball.

DE, Randy Gregory

You may disagree with me here, but the way Randy Gregory played in the second half of the 2018 season earned him stud status in my opinion. If he would've played that way for the entire year he would've joined DeMarcus Lawrence with double digit quarterback sacks. His ability to turn his speed into power gave opposing left tackles fits. He ended up being among the best at pressuring the QB in the latter part of the season.

DT, Antwaun Woods

Antwaun Woods was viewed as nothing more than a camp body when the Dallas Cowboys picked him up in the offseason after being released by the Tennessee Titans, but it's not always where you start it's where you finish. He went on to earn the starting gig at the 1-tech or nose tackle this past season and was largely responsible for the success Dallas had at shutting down opposing offenses rushing attacks. Unfortunately, as well as he played all season it will probably be forgotten after the way the LA Rams completely dominated Woods and the rest of the Cowboys DL in the playoffs.

✭ Dallas Cowboys 2018 Duds ✭

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

LB, Sean Lee

The Dallas Cowboys wisely drafted Leighton Vander Esch as insurance if Sean Lee couldn't remain healthy in 2018, and thank the heavens they did. Vander Esch was supposed to be Lee's backup this season, but it ended up being the other way around after #50 once again missed quite a bit of the year with injuries. It looks like the torch has already been passed, making Sean Lee's future in Dallas a mystery moving forward.

DT, David Irving

Remember last offseason when the Dallas Cowboys decided to place just a second-round tender on David Irving and we were worried some other team would snatch him up? Yeah, well it looks as if the Cowboys are the ones who paid too much to keep him around because did basically nothing in 2018 despite all the high expectations we all had for him. After he sustained a high ankle sprain he pretty much went M.I.A. and no one really knows what the heck is going on or what his future holds.

WR, Allen Hurns

The Dallas Cowboys signed Allen Hurns this past offseason to help replace some of the lost production in the passing game after they decided to release Dez Bryant. Unfortunately, he never found his footing in Dallas and finished the year with an unimpressive stat line of 20 receptions for 295 receiving yards and two touchdowns. To add insult to injury (pun intended), his gruesome leg injury might be the only thing we remember about his 2018 season.

S, Jeff Heath

I'm actually a fan of Jeff Heath's, but he didn't particularly play very well this season. He ended up grading out as one of the worst tackling safeties in the NFL this past season. I don't know if it was some kind of fluke or what, but the Dallas Cowboys will surely be looking to upgrade the safety position this offseason either through free agency or the draft, perhaps both. Regardless, his days in the starting lineup may be all but over.

RB/WR, Tavon Austin

There were a lot of high expectations for Tavon Austin when the Dallas Cowboys added him via trade with the Los Angeles Rams. Austin was supposed to provide a different dynamic to the Cowboys offense and help improve their return game as well. Unfortunately a groin injury pretty much wiped out the majority of his season, but even when he was on the field he wasn't as impactful as we'd all hoped. He did show a few flashes of his talent, but for me it wasn't enough.



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Report: Antwaun Woods Played with Torn Labrum in Loss to Rams

John Williams

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HOU 19, DAL 16: Cowboys Lose Tough Defensive Battle in Overtime

Late last night, Ian Rapoport from the NFL Network reported yesterday that Antwaun Woods suffered a torn labrum in the second quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams and proceeded to play with the injury for the rest of the game.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys DT Antwaun Woods tore his labrum during the second quarter of the #Rams game and had surgery today to repair it, source said. He played the rest of the game with the ailment. One of Dallas' young talents on the mend.

Woods is a tough player, but there's no way that it didn't affect his play. The labrum is the cartilage in the socket of your shoulder joint. It acts to protect the bones from rubbing together and allows a smooth surface for the shoulder to rotate and extend. The labrum also serves as the location where the tendons and muscles of the rotator cuff attach.

A torn labrum will effect the range of motion and will be painful to use when attempting to perform range of motion. Also, any blows to the shoulder, which is always for a defensive tackle will be painful as well, and it will limit his play strength.

https://twitter.com/AntwaunWoods_/status/1086089237785653248

Antwaun Woods responded to Rapoport's report with confirmation of the injury and surgery.

Woods was a highlight of training camp and a standout this season. His play at the 1-technique defensive tackle position helped the Dallas Cowboys become a top 10 rushing defense and gave the Cowboys something they've struggled to find for years; a penetrating 1-technique defensive tackle.

Woods finished the season with 34 total tackles (15 solo), two tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits according to Pro Football Reference. He also had 16 stops, which Pro Football Focus defines as a play that resulted in a loss for the offense, which was second on the team at defensive tackle to Tyrone Crawford.

Things are looking up for Woods as he'll likely be back with the Cowboys in 2019 and manning the nose tackle position for a defense that is on the rise in the NFL. Injuries are never a good thing, but the Cowboys and Cowboys Nation just learned how tough Antwaun Woods is and how much he's willing to give for his teammates.



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