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Can the Cowboys Afford to Keep DeMarcus Lawrence?

Jess Haynie

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Dallas Cowboys Player Profile: DE #90 DeMarcus Lawrence 1

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.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Broncos

DE DeMarcus Lawrence

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.

5 Takeaways From Cowboys Win VS Giants

DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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 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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3 Comments
  • Albert Smith

    We all understand that the NFL is a business, with that being said I wonder if there could be a couple of Sean Lee type of deals to be made namely with Tank and Dino. I don’t see Coop or Hitch being in Dallas Cowboys uniforms next year because although solid neither one are game changers, Coop is a stopgap at the moment as for Hitch we need more from him despite the game @ Atlanta (we trim the fat) from the roster. So we handle Zack is priority one he’ll command top dollar, I see Jerry in the boys up top using the fact that Tank has a injury history to their advantage along with his desire to stay here throughout his career and of course the suspension to try for a fair but incentive based contract they both believe reasonable. Now Dino they’ll use the first round tender to buy themselves some time to decide as to who else is gone the following off season to take care of him as in Dino.

  • David Hansen

    They will just put the franchise tag on him

  • Travis Diggs

    The Romo contract should get us back financially. Martin is number one priority. D-Law should be priority but not top dollar for one good season. While people may not be that high on Hitchens, U need his experience for all the games Sean Lee tends to miss. David Irving has to be some sort of priority because of his effect on the game. Seeing that the Cowboys arent big on free agency U might as well sign your guys back, stop bringing in average free agents(Carroll and Paea) to replace your own guys. If your not ready to bring in a game changer in free agency then just bring your own back

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Reunion with WR Brice Butler Makes No Sense

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Does Brice Butler Deserve A Bigger Offensive Role?

The Dallas Cowboys have brought back Wide Receiver Brice Butler, who was with the team from 2015-2017. The reunion is a head-scratching move given the team's current stockpile of receivers, and especially given Butler's lack of impact during his previous run in Dallas.

There's no question that Dallas could use some more juice in the passing game. So far the post-Witten, post-Bryant era has only seen 165 yards-per-game out of Dak Prescott and his current receiving options.

I can understand the Cowboys getting antsy about this low production. I can understand the feeling that waiting for chemistry to develop between Dak and new faces like Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup, or any one of these young tight ends, could be damaging to the season.

But when you need a spark in the offense, it seems odd to turn to a guy who was in your system for three years and never had a huge game.

Let's just look at Butler's top five statistical performances as a Cowboy:

  • 5 catches, 41 yards, 1 touchdown (Week 4, 2016)
  • 2 catches, 90 yards, 1 touchdown (Week 3, 2017)
  • 2 catches, 50 yards, 1 touchdown (Week 17, 2017)
  • 4 catches, 74 yards (Week 16, 2015)
  • 4 catches, 60 yards (Week 17, 2015)

No games with over 100 yards. No games with more than five catches. No games with more than one touchdown.

I'm not trying to slam Brice here. He is what he is. This is all about trying to understand the logic of the Cowboys' front office in making this move.

Cowboys Blog - Terrance Williams Tuesday: #TWillTuesday 2

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

If the idea was to bring in a guy who Dak Prescott had more familiarity with, then why not give Terrance Williams more playing time? He's already on the roster and buried on the depth chart, getting the fewest snaps of all the WRs last week.

If you've followed my work for long, you know I'm no fan of Williams. But even I can admit that he's been more productive and effective in this offense than Brice Butler ever was.

If you're bringing in Butler to be a vertical threat, isn't that what you signed veteran Deonte Thompson for? Last year, playing for two different teams with shaky QB situations, Thompson had 38 catches for 555 yards. Brice hasn't had a single season close to that.

What about Tavon Austin? Just three days ago, Austin had a 64-yard touchdown. Did we really need another guy for field stretching? And even if so, what in Butler's history indicates he can do something that Thompson or Austin can't?

Don't forget about Hurns, Gallup, or Cole Beasley either. They're not vertical receivers, but they're still the top three guys in the offense.

If you're a Brice Butler fan, you've likely argued that his lack of production in Dallas was from a lack of opportunities. That may be true, but how has that changed in 2018? There are more mouths to feed than ever at WR.

What is Butler going to do now, that he didn't for three years, to earn more looks?

Should The Cowboys Consider Adding Troubled WR Josh Gordon?

Former Browns WR Josh Gordon, now with the Patriots

If Dallas was really concerned about adding an offensive spark, the opportunity was out there this week with Josh Gordon. The Patriots got him for a conditional 5th-round pick from Cleveland just yesterday.

I can understand why Dallas, given recent issues with Randy Gregory and David Irving, were reluctant to add a player with such a notorious history of substance abuse. But if the no-nonsense Patriots were willing to give him a shot, why not the far more liberal Cowboys?

If Gordon was one problem child too many, what about Jordan Matthews? The former 2nd-round pick is still just 26 (Butler is 28) and had over 800 yards in each year from 2014-2016. He had a down year in Buffalo in 2017, as anyone would, and then didn't make the Patriots squad this year due to an injury.

Whether it's on your own roster or out in the open market, there seem to be profitable options than Brice Butler. The chance for him to be the next Laurent Robinson came and went; the same QB and the same Offensive Coordinator are here.

Is there really some juice left to squeeze here?

There's an old saying that, "if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any." I think the same logic applies to having seven wide receivers. There was already a logjam, and Dallas didn't even cut one of them to make room for Butler.

So yeah, I don't get it. I'm perplexed why they added anyone at all, this early in the year, while their current receivers are all healthy and still trying to find their role in the offense.

And if the Cowboys really felt that had to make a move, why the heck did they bring back this guy?



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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks: Inside The Numbers

John Williams

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Cowboys Blog - 2016 Contract-Year Cowboys: DT David Irving 2

The Dallas Cowboys will travel to the Pacific Northwest this weekend to face the Seattle Seahawks in an important game for both teams in the NFC race.

The Seattle Seahawks are 0-2 and risk being buried in an NFC West that has seen the Los Angeles Rams become the divisional power. With the San Francisco 49ers trending up, the Seahawks might find themselves left behind. On Monday Night Football, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks had little answers for a Chicago Bears team that has one of the more underrated defenses in the NFL. Well, maybe not so underrated now. They battered Wilson and the Seahawks offensive line for six sacks and were able to pressure him into an interception they were able to return for a touchdown.

The Dallas Cowboys rebounded from a week one disappointment to take care of business against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. It wasn't a pretty win on offense, save for the first and last drives of the game, but it was a solid win. The defense dominated the New York Giants' offensive line and left them searching for answers at 0-2.

As we get ready for week three let's go Inside The Numbers for yet another important matchup for the Dallas Cowboys.

Team Breakdown

The Dallas Cowboys lead the all-time series 10-8, but have dropped the last two matchups and are 2-3 over the last five games. They've split the last two meetings that played in Seattle, winning the most recent showdown in 2014, 30-23.

If you'll remember, that was the game that had us all believing that Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray led Cowboys team was for real. Sadly the 2014 season ended with the typical heartbreak that we've grown accustomed to in the last 23 years.

Let's take a look at how the matchup breaks down on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Offense

The Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks offenses are eerily similar statistically as both rank near the bottom in most offensive categories.

Dallas Cowboys at the Seattle Seahawks: Inside The Numbers 2As you can see from the chart above, there aren't many categories where either team ranks inside the top 20 in total offense.

Offensive Observations

  • The Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage along the offensive line. They rank inside the top 15 in rush yards, rush TDs, first downs on the ground, and have allowed fewer sacks than the Seattle Seahawks offensive line.
  • The Dallas Cowboys have been excellent through two games at protecting the ball, having only turned it over one time; a fumble by Dak Prescott in the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers.
  • Through two games, the Seahawks haven't rushed for a touchdown. They haven't run it often and haven't run it very well either. They only average 3.6 yards per attempt on the ground. Advantage Cowboys. 
  • While the Seahawks have thrown for more yards this season, Dak Prescott has a better completion percentage. For the year, Russell Wilson has completed only 59.4% of his passes. Dak Prescott is at 64.8%.

Defense

It's on the defensive side of the ball where the Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage, particularly with their pass rush.

Dallas Cowboys at the Seattle Seahawks: Inside the Numbers

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys have the statistical edge in nearly every category.

Defensive Observations

  • The Dallas Cowboys rank in the top five in several defensive categories including points allowed, yards allowed, yards per play, passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns, net yards per attempt, first downs achieved through the air, and sacks.
  • Where the Dallas Cowboys have struggled in the first two games, particularly against the Carolina Panthers was against the run. Though they're around the middle of the pack through two games, the Panthers were able to find a lot of success on the ground. The New York Giants, not so much.
  • The Cowboys are going to have to continue to be careful with the football as the Seattle Seahawks continue to be one of the best at creating turnovers, especially in the secondary. They're tied for first in the NFL in interceptions with five. Through two games, Prescott hasn't thrown one, but he's had a couple potential interceptions dropped. This week he won't be so lucky.

What it All Means

The Dallas Cowboys are going to have a pretty difficult challenge corralling Seahawks' Quarterback Russell Wilson, but the numbers seem to point to it being a long afternoon for Wilson.

The Dallas Cowboys have a decided advantage when the Seahawks drop back to pass. The Seattle offensive line has allowed the most sacks in the NFL. Coming off allowing six sacks to the Chicago Bears, Wilson could be in for another long day against a Dallas Cowboys defense that is second in the NFL -- to the Chicago Bears -- in sacks with nine.

The Seattle Seahawks won't be able to rely on their running game to keep the Dallas Cowboys defense off balance as they only average 3.4 yards per carry through the first two weeks of the season. If the Cowboys can get an early lead this Sunday, it will present a really favorable opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys pass rush.

Dallas Cowboys vs Seattle Seahawks Stat Notes

0

Dak Prescott hasn't thrown an interception this season. If we can make any observations through two games, it's that he seems to be back to his ball protection ways. As a rookie, Prescott only through four interceptions, before doubling that in 2017 with eight.

2

Cole Beasley and Deonte Thompson are tied for 27th in the NFL in yards per route run. That number is better than Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings, Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions, Davante Adams of the Green Bay Packers, and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

3

The Seattle Seahawks have had a hard time getting to opposing passers and have collected only three sacks through the NFL's first two weeks. Prescott was sacked six times in week one, but the Dallas Cowboys offensive line rebounded to keep the New York Giants from collecting a sack in week two.

4

Tyler Lockett has played 53 of his 79 offensive snaps from the slot, but has only been targeted four times, catching four passes for 85 yards. His 1.60 yards per route run out of the slot is tied for 11th in the NFL among players who have played at least 50% of their snaps from the slot.

13.5

Seattle Defensive Lineman Jarran Reed has been the best run defender for the Seahawks, earning a run stop on 13.5% of his run snaps. Overall he sits eighth in the NFL. Among defensive lineman with at least 50% of their team's run snaps, only Da'Shawn Hand and Linval Joseph have a better run stop percentage.

19

The amount of snaps per reception allowed by Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Anthony Brown. No player who has played at least 50% of his coverage snaps in the slot has a higher snap per reception rate in the NFL than Brown's 19.

36.4

According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson's been sacked on 36.4% of his drop backs this season. Only Ryan Tannehill and Nathan Peterman have a worse percentage of players who have dropped back to pass a minimum of 22 times this season.

Wilson's been under pressure on 38.8% of his drop backs, which is sixth in the NFL.

80.4

Dak Prescott's adjusted completion percentage, which "accounts for factors that hurt the passer's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are," per Pro Football Focus and "It accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the QB was hit while they threw the ball."

Prescott's adjusted completion percentage is ninth in the NFL. Better than notable names such as Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ben Roethlisberger, DeShaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Luck.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

As I look at the run down for this game and after watching these two teams in week two, I see this as a very favorable matchup for the Dallas Cowboys. Obviously, statistics don't tell the whole story, but the Dallas Cowboys biggest strength, it's pass rush, will be facing a Seattle team that is very weak along the offensive line.

This looks to be a Dallas Cowboys win that will improve them to 2-1.



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Game Notes

Snap Judgments: Cowboys’ Linebacker Depth Stands Out in Win

John Williams

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Snap Judgments: Cowboys' Linebacker Depth Stands Out in Win

The Dallas Cowboys evened their record at 1-1 with their 20-13 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night. The Cowboys linebackers had a huge impact on the outcome of the game and it wasn't just the guys at the top of the depth chart either. America's Team got contributions from guys at the bottom of the depth chart.

What a difference a year makes.

The Dallas Cowboys worked hard this offseason to fix the linebacker depth that failed them in the 2017 season. When Sean Lee or Anthony Hitchens -- or both -- were sidelined with injuries, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, and the rest of the linebacker group struggled to keep up with opposing offenses. Specifically, in games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers the major depth inadequacy was revealed.

One year later, the Dallas Cowboys have a linebacker corp that allows them to go five deep with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, and Damien Wilson all making considerable contributions for the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday nights victory.

Here are the final snap counts for the five linebackers that played a defensive snap against the Giants.

  • Jaylon Smith - 57 (84%)
  • Sean Lee - 41 (60)
  • Leighton Vander Esch - 28 (48%)
  • Damien Wilson - 17 (25%)
  • Joe Thomas - 14 (21%)

Jaylon Smith led the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night with 10 tackles (seven solo) and played really well roaming sideline to sideline and making plays. He was tasked with the difficult assignment of containing New York Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley and allowed four catches for 41 yards in his coverage area. Smith was credited with three stops or plays that result in a "loss" for the offense (per Pro Football Focus).  Smith led the team in snaps for the second straight week.

Sean Lee had a better game on Sunday night than he did in week one. PFF credited him with four stops, four tackles and an assist. Lee allowed two catches for 24 yards on two targets to Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram. Lee pulled his hamstring at the end of the game and was held out the rest of the way for precautionary reasons. He'll be an interesting name to watch on this week's injury report. Age catches up with everyone, but hopefully Sean Lee can stave it off for at least another season.

Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch saw a big bump in his snap count from week one (17) to week two (28). The rookie played well too. As many players seemed to struggle with tackling Saquon Barkley, Vander Esch was able to bring down the number two overall pick on several occasions. Vander Esch had seven solo tackles in his second career game.

Damien Wilson was the surprise player of the night. He had three tackles on the night, including one on special teams, a sack, and a forced fumble. Though his time on the field might have been short, his impact was certainly felt. His forced fumble led to a field goal that gave the Dallas Cowboys a 13-0 nothing lead. Wilson was also credited with two stops on the night.

Joe Thomas has been a good player for the team off the bench as well. Though he only had one tackle, it was good enough to be credited with a stop. He's a player that can play both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots. As the fourth or fifth linebacker on the depth chart, Thomas is a great role player.

Other Snap Count Notes

  • Taco Charlton may not have started, but he played 84% of the team's defensive snaps. That number is up from 73% in week one. Charlton had a sack, a hit, and a hurry as well as three stops on the night.
  • Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns led the wide receiver group in snap percentage from week one to week two. The big difference at wide receiver was seeing Michael Gallup take the third most snaps on offense instead of Deonte Thompson. Thompson still had the bigger impact with four catches for 33 yards on five targets including two for first downs.
  • Geoff Swaim was the far and away leader at tight end in snaps with a 94% snap count. Only the offensive line and Dak Prescott had more snaps on the night than Swaim. He's the TE1 for the team, though he didn't have an impact in the passing game.
  • Rico Gathers only played five snaps, but there was concerted effort to get him the ball as he had two targets in his five snaps. He may not have come away with a catch, but it's a start.
  • Jourdan Lewis continues to be the odd man out on defense. He only played one snap.
  • Dorance Armstrong saw a snap jump from week one to week two going from 28% of the defensive snaps to 40% of the snaps. He had two hurries and an assisted tackle.



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