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.
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.
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.
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.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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