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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.

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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

Player News

La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys headed to New York a couple of days ago with a mission: survive a potential trap game versus a 2-10 New York Giants team. Despite not getting most of the help they needed from other teams around the league, at least Dallas was able to do the job they could control.

Through three quarters, the Cowboys struggled a lot. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when they decided to have a touchdown party, outscoring the Giants 20-0 in the final eight minutes of the game.

What did we learn from the Cowboys’ seventh win of the season? Here is this week’s edition of Takeaway Tuesday! 

Dak Prescott Bounced Back

Although the Cowboys are a team that’s barely breathing in the playoff race, the truth is there’re a lot of ways that Dak has improved as a QB. It’s easy to look at a team lose football games and blame the QB without hesitating. That’s been the case most of the season.

It’s fair to say that Prescott hadn’t had an awesome game in a long time, though. But this time, he did just that.

Film Room: How Dak Prescott Beat The Giants' Blitz

Dak Prescott needed a performance like this one. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday. He made some key throws and key reads during the game and managed to beat the Giants’ blitz with ease. Glad to see you hush the haters, 4.

Certainly a good thing to see when you need to go 3-0 in order to stay in the postseason conversation.

Concerns Around Dez Bryant Continue to Increase

Listen, I love Dez Bryant. He’s been one of my favorite players to ever watch. But at some point, you have to start admitting there is a problem. Yes, Dez Bryant has been struggling this season. Whether you want to blame Dak or Dez about it, it’s fair. I think they both are to blame.

The thing about Dez is that he can have quite a few bad plays and makes you forget about it when he  does something awesome. A perfect example of this is his 50-yard TD against the Giants last Sunday. It came at a perfect moment, but he had dropped some easy balls earlier in the game.

Dez – Streamable

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Dez is getting paid like an elite WR, and despite some great moments on the field, he’s been having a lot of bad ones lately. If you have a $70M contract, you can’t frequently drop passes like that.

It may be about chemistry with his new QB, it may be about age, or it may be just about a couple of bad years for the guy. Whatever it is, as much as we hate to say it, Dez isn’t anywhere close to the “top receivers” conversation this year.

Sean Lee Proved to be Invaluable Once Again

Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?I’m constantly amazed by the difference the Cowboys’ veteran linebacker makes when he’s on the field. In his heroic return against the Giants, he finished the day with 18 total tackles, 10 of which were solo. With Sean Lee on the field, this defense has been able to be a headache for opposing offenses.

Sean Lee could easily be this team’s MVP. For Cowboys Nation, it’s been a season of constantly missing football players in Dallas. Out of everyone, I think Sean Lee is the player we missed the most. Including Ezekiel Elliott.

This defense transforms into a very capable one with Lee around. The Cowboys need Zeke back if they want to have success in their hunt for the playoffs, but without Lee, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis Are Still Killing It

Coming into this game, one of the biggest question marks was the cornerback position for Dallas. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were going to get the start, and there’s always uncertainty around rookies going up against a QB like Eli Manning.

lewis – Streamable

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Look at that coverage by Jourdan Lewis. Look at him turn his head around when the ball’s coming. The way this secondary will grow is exciting to think about. The Cowboys have something special in these two guys. They’ll make for an amazing CB duo for years to come, and I’m excited about what they bring to the table.

Chidobe Awuzie has played the last two games, and he’s been very impressive. Throughout the entire game, his converge was pretty impressive. Eli only targeted him 5 times in the ballgame and was able to complete just two passes against him.

Sean Lee ended up with the interception late in the fourth quarter, but it was perfectly set up by Chidobe Awuzie.

Awuzie – Streamable

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It was a very fun fourth quarter for the Dallas Cowboys, and even though it looks difficult… this football team’s playoff hopes are still alive. Jason Garrett must keep this team focused in the Oakland Raiders for now, though.

Hope dies last, Cowboys Nation. Keep your head up.

Tell me what you think about “Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant” in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Dallas Cowboys

Playoffs Or Not, Cowboys Defense Showing Promise For Future

Sean Martin

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Playoffs Or Not, Cowboys Defense Showing Promise For Future 1

The New York Giants are not a good football team, but the Dallas Cowboys 30-10 win over the Giants in Eli Manning’s return to action left Cowboys Nation with plenty to be excited about as the team improved to 7-6.

In a stacked NFC, the Cowboys unfortunately did not get much help from scores elsewhere around the league Sunday, and the momentum they’ve built with two straight wins ahead of Ezekiel Elliott‘s return in week 16 has done little to improve their chances of reaching the playoffs.

The entire NFC East in 2017 has truly epitomized how quickly things can improve or fall apart in this league, as the Eagles clinching the title came at the cost of their franchise QB Carson Wentz – tearing his ACL to end his season.

Will Chidobe Awuzie's Return Benefit The Cowboys Defense?

Dallas Cowboys’ Jourdan Lewis (27), Chidobe Awuzie (33) and Xavier Woods (25) warm ups before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Through all of this, including my own criticism of Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, I can’t help but get excited about the potential this young Dallas defense is showing. The Cowboys got back in the win column two weeks ago against the Redskins, shuffling their secondary with great results.

Adding Sean Lee back to this winning formula against the Giants brought things even further into focus for the Cowboys defense though. Schematically, they were cohesive through all three levels. The longest play the Giants hit on was a 35-yard completion (against the blitz) to Evan Engram – one of their lone remaining offensive threats.

When the Cowboys dropped three straight games in weeks 10-12, the defense was desperate for Dak Prescott and the offense to play up to their potential. Prescott’s career day at MetLife Stadium was perhaps the most unsurprising development from this week, as the Cowboys found out early in this season that Prescott is in fact their franchise QB, and soon the complimentary performance turned in by this scrappy defense will be just as regularly expected.

Will Chidobe Awuzie's Return Benefit The Cowboys' Defense?

Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis continue to live up to their draft status, two lengthy defenders with ball skills that have not been seen in the Cowboys secondary for some time. Sixth round pick Xavier Woods has proved valuable at every spot these coaches play him at, contributing at Nickel CB against the Giants’ Sterling Shepard and looking comfortable.

Jeff Heath came up with an interception on what may have been Eli Manning’s last pass as a Giant against the Cowboys, and played well throughout the afternoon in his rotational role alongside Byron Jones.

At linebacker, Sean Lee’s 18 tackles with an interception only further highlighted how well Anthony Hitchens has played at the other primary LB spot. I wrote in my immediate post game Sean’s Scout that I also thought Jaylon Smith could have been utilized more in this game, but the fact that he’s played in 13 straight games for the Cowboys without additional injuries is incredible enough.

Simply put, the biggest reason the Cowboys have salvaged a shot at contending for the playoffs this season is because they’ve found a way to get back to playing complimentary football on offense and defense – even with some key absences on both sides of the ball.

The game plan is a proven one. When the Cowboys run the ball, control the clock, and allow their defense to play from ahead against hurried, one-dimensional offenses they can beat anyone.

Whether or not that means 10 wins to close this roller coaster of a season – good enough for the playoffs or not – the Cowboys are doing well to prove they’ll have staying power in the NFC for years to come.

This fate was very debatable a few weeks ago, and any team that commits to turning over their defense as much as the Cowboys did in one offseason should expect something of a regression, but the Cowboys’ future is now being written in front of us by young stars on offense and defense.

Playoffs Or Not, Cowboys Defense Showing Promise For Future

Getting more than three remaining kickoffs for guys like Awuzie, Lewis, Woods, Jaylon Smith, and Lewis Neal would certainly be ideal for the end of this season. Should the Cowboys miss out on the playoffs due to circumstances past their control though, we can all spend a few months getting very excited about what these defenders will have to say about taking matters into their own hands at the very next possible opportunity.

Tell us what you think about “Playoffs Or Not, Cowboys Defense Showing Promise For Future” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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