After 10 weeks of the 2017 NFL season, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is the current sack leader for the entire league. His breakout is a welcome sight for sack-deprived Cowboys fans, but it may have a bittersweet ending. If Lawrence stays on his current pace, he may become far too expensive for Dallas to re-sign.
DeMarcus' 11.5 sacks are not only best in the NFL but mean he could potentially threaten the single-season record of 22.5 sacks, set by Michael Strahan in 2001. Even if he doesn't top Strahan, Lawrence could easily get to the Cowboys team record of 20 sacks. No surprise; DeMarcus Ware has that distinction with 20 sacks in 2008.
Barring an injury setback, Lawrence should hit 2018 free agency as one of top players at any position. Let's take a look at what that translated to in dollars last year.
The biggest contract given for a pass rusher last year went to Chandler Jones, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals for $83 million over five years. That's $16.6 million per season, which is a daunting figure when you consider that the cost of the DE franchise tag was $16.9 million.
Generally, the idea of signing elite guys to long-term deals is to get some cap relief from what the franchise tag would cost you. For the Cardinals, Chandlers Jones only had a $10 million cap hit in 2017 and will count $15.5 million next year. That's good relief now and a little in 2018, but then the contract jumps to $19 million cap hits over the final three years.
A major difference between Chandler Jones and DeMarcus Lawrence is their track record. Jones had 47 career sacks from four seasons in New England and one year with Arizona. Including this season, Lawrence has just 20.5 and more than half of that's come in a contract year.
The contract year is one of the scariest factors for any team trying to make a free agent decision. There is a well-documented history of players giving max effort to get a big contract extension, or a new deal in free agency, and then seeing a major drop in performance.
For DeMarcus Lawrence, the lack of production in his first three years can be attributed to health issues more than lack of effort. He had a slow start as a rookie but then looked ready to breakout in 2015, getting seven sacks in the final eight weeks. Last year he had a four-game PED suspension and then was set back by injuries.
There's no denying that there are red flags with Lawrence, but he will also be a year younger than Chandler Jones was as a free agent. If his sack production keeps up, he could be coming off one of the best seasons any pass rusher has ever had. He's had lower lows than Chandler Jones did, but is about to have a much higher high.
Therefore, assuming Lawrence will be this highly attractive free agent commodity, what can the Cowboys do to keep him? Do they have the salary cap space to do it, or at least moves to clear the space needed?
It's hard to estimate all of this now, but right now OverTheCap says Dallas has about $10 million in cap space. This is important as any unused cap space rolls over into the following season. OTC also assigns us with about $24.3 million in dead money counting against the 2017 cap and only $13.7 million next year, so that's about $10.6 million becoming available.
Sound great, right? Just one problem; DeMarcus Lawrence isn't the only player on the team.
The Cowboys have to re-sign Zack Martin. While he is secured for 2018 by the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, that would cost Dallas $9.3 million in cap space for just one season. They want to get a long-term deal done with Martin similar to what they have Travis Frederick before 2016.
The good news there is that even if Martin gets a big contract, Dallas can immediately restructure that first year to bring the cap hit low. Like with Frederick, the Cowboys are rightfully confident in Martin's long-term value and that he'll be a starting guard for them for at least the next 5-7 years. They don't pushing guaranteed money into later years because there's no foreseeable scenario where they would part ways with Martin or Frederick.
David Irving is another player Dallas has to make a move on. Closely behind DeMarcus Lawrence in terms of breakout defensive linemen, Irving will thankfully be only a restricted free agent in 2018. Dallas will likely give him the first-round RFA tender, which should pay about $4 million. The big decision on Irving will be in 2019, but a $3.5 million raise is still a solid chunk of space Dallas had to account for.
There are other impending free agents to consider. Guard Jonathan Cooper has earned his way into the starting lineup and they may want to keep him. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens is a solid, versatile player that they may not want to part with. If they don't keep these guys, money may need to be spent on replacements. However, none of these moves should break the bank.
Because they are no longer burdened by the full force of Tony Romo's massive cap hit, Dallas has more flexibility than they used to. They can certainly keep DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, and anyone else they want to this season. They will even be able to look at acquiring some new talent.
The Cowboys have moved to a much wiser cap-management model over the last few years. They don't want to reward players for past performance with big contracts without some certainty of continued results. DeMarcus Lawrence is going to put present them with an interesting decision; a guy who broke out in his contract year but is still young enough to have several more seasons in his prime.
Dallas can afford to keep him, but will they want to risk? DeMarcus Lawrence is going to put their new philosophy to the test.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: RB Alfred Morris
After two seasons of providing veteran depth for the Dallas Cowboys, running back Alfred Morris is about to be a free agent again. Does the 29-year-old still have value for the club, or will Dallas go with younger options in 2018?
Morris was signed in March of 2016. At the time, it was assumed he would be the backup to incumbent starter Darren McFadden and perhaps even split carries.
But a month later, Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott and drastically changed the landscape at the running back position.
If Alfred suddenly seemed expendable, that quickly changed in June when McFadden broke his elbow. Morris wound being the number-two back after all, but he was rarely used as Elliott immediately became the workhorse RB and held that role for all of his spectacular rookie season.
Last year, we all know what happened with Ezekiel Elliott. Morris became the primary RB during Zeke's suspension and had solid numbers, averaging 4.35 yards on his 99 carries during that six-week stretch.
By Week 16, though, not only had Zeke returned but Rod Smith had started to break out from the depth chart. In the Cowboys' pivotal game that week against the Seattle Seahawks, Alfred didn't even get a touch behind Elliott and Smith.
Considering Smith's emergence last year, and him only being 26, it's easy to see why Dallas may not be looking to bring Alfred Morris back. They seem to have their one-two punch already set at the top of the RB depth chart.
What's more, Morris isn't likely to settle for a likely third-place role. He may not be interested in coming back to Dallas given the situation.
Thankfully for Alfred, he enters the free agent market with some good tape from 2017 showing that he can still produce. It's not a loaded crop of free agents this year and, despite his age, Morris could still find a good job somewhere. He's earned an opportunity to compete, if nothing else.
That opportunity likely won't come in Dallas, though. As I wrote about last month, the Cowboys have enough power already and need to add a speed option in their RB rotation.
That said, Alfred Morris spent the last two years giving Dallas good value for the money. He was a solid free agent pickup and his time as a Cowboy should be remembered fondly. At this point, though, I doubt that relationship will continue.
Though Promising, We Need To Relax About Safety Kavon Frazier
With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff, fans are hoping that Dallas will create their own "Legion of Boom." Of course this is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.
If the Cowboys are to recreate the Legion of Boom they will need their version of two vital pieces: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks defense works, in many ways, because of these two players. Thomas' ability to play centerfield and literally defend sideline to sideline gives the Seahawks the freedom to use Chancellor where he's best, as a box safety. Chancellor is a big, physical safety who defends the run effectively in the box and can blanket tight ends in man coverage with his size and athleticism.
These safeties are arguably the most critical pieces to the Legion of Boom, though having a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman certainly doesn't hurt.
Realizing Chancellor's importance, Cowboys fans are hoping that current safety Kavon Frazier can fulfill this role in Dallas. Since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2016 Frazier has made his home on Special Teams. As an impressive tackler in both punt and kick coverage, Frazier earned himself time at safety down the stretch of the 2017 season.
All in all, Frazier played rather well. Against the Washington Redskins he stepped in and made a few splash plays at the line of scrimmage, causing Cowboys Nation to lose their minds. After that impressive Thursday night game, however, Kavon Frazier didn't really reach that same level of performance.
Frazier is still a liability when asked to cover, especially when asked to play as a two deep safety. He also struggles when taking angles at times, though playing downhill as a tackler is his best attribute. Frazier actually reminds me a bit of Barry Church, though over time Church became more refined in coverage than Frazier currently is.
Some have argued that Kavon Frazier's presence should stop the Cowboys from considering a first round safety. I would disagree, and actually believe that if Florida State's Derwin James is available, the Cowboys should consider making that pick.
If you could combine the athleticism and coverage abilities of Byron Jones with the physicality and "box safety" qualities of Kavon Frazier, you'd have a fantastic safety. Unfortunately, this isn't the Marvel Universe and we are left without any super heroes in the back-end.
Hopefully Kris Richard will figure out how to correctly place all of these pieces in the Dallas Cowboys secondary going forward.
Maverick Carter: LeBron James Considered Cowboys During NBA Lockout
Maverick Carter is a pretty important man in the world of sports. As a business man, entrepreneur, and manager of one of the best basketball players of all time in LeBron James, Maverick Carter is certainly used to making headlines.
This week, while on former NFL running back Arian Foster's podcast "Now What? with Arian Foster," Carter claimed that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once attempted to negotiate a contract with LeBron James.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Carter claims that Jones contacted LeBron James and discussed bringing him in as a Cowboy while the NBA was without games.
"Jerry Jones, being the smart marketer he is...one day out of the clear blue sky LeBron got a contract I think it was for like one year, a couple million bucks to play for the Dallas Cowboys." - Maverick Carter.
Carter then states that LeBron may have the paperwork framed in his house to remember these discussions with Jerry Jones. LeBron's fandom for the Cowboys has been well documented, as has been his high school football prowess.
We may never know how "real" these discussions were, and of course it is long over now, but just imagining LeBron James getting a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys would break the internet.
You can check out the full episode of the podcast here, and I highly suggest listening to the other episodes Arian Foster has to offer.
Want to help make Inside The Star better?
We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Deep Dive: Inside the Dallas Cowboys’ 2018 Salary Cap
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys Sign Converted QB Jason Thompson to Play Safety
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys CB Marquez White Could Emerge in 2018
NFL Draft1 week ago
Star Defensive Talent Falls to Cowboys in Latest Round of Mock Drafts
Star Blog1 day ago
Should Cowboys Sign This RFA to a Contract Sheet?
NFL Draft7 days ago
The 1 Player Cowboys Should Consider Trading Up For
Star Blog4 days ago
Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
How Much Input Will Kris Richard Have in Cowboys Draft?