Playing on the franchise tag, Dallas Cowboys Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence has one eye on opposing quarterbacks and the other on his 2019 contract. He started this year hot, registering 5.5 sacks in four games. But “Tank” hasn’t brought down a QB in the last three games, and that streak can’t continue if he wants to get his payday.
It hasn’t been all bad; Lawrence had seven tackles, four for a loss, and QB hit in last week’s loss to Washington. But in the two weeks prior against the Jaguars and Texans, the Cowboys top defensive player was only credited with one tackle in each game.
Some things don’t go in the stat sheet, of course. The work offenses have to do to stop DeMarcus opens up things for other players, which we saw against Jacksonville.
But last season, Lawrence’s 14.5 sacks got him to the Pro Bowl and named a Second Team All-Pro. It gave him the leverage to earn the franchise tag and negotiate around the top of the market for defensive ends.
If he doesn’t crank up the sack production in 2018, DeMarcus won’t have the same bargaining power in the upcoming offseason.
In the next offseason, Lawrence will be turning 27 years old in April. That’s not old for a DE, but it’s not as attractive as 26 was a year ago. Throw in a decline in production, and Tank might not be the biggest name available as he just was.
Maybe that works in the Cowboys’ favor. There’s no indication that DeMarcus wants to leave Dallas, so the Cowboys may have more leverage in 2019 than they did in this year’s contract negotiation.
This can still go a lot of ways. With nine games left to go, Lawrence could go on another hot streak and be in double-digit sacks before you know it.
Right now, though, he’s behind both the current league leaders and the bar he set for himself in 2017.
There’s no question that DeMarcus is still the best defensive lineman that Dallas has. And next year, with no first-round pick anymore, Dallas will unlikely have a better option than to re-sign Lawrence to keep their pass rush operable.
So really, Lawrence’s leverage may not go down as much as you’d think.
But contract talk aside, Dallas needs DeMarcus to pick it up for the sake of winning games in 2018. The team still has games with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and two with Carson Wentz coming this year.
If the Cowboys are going to turn it around this season, DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the key guys to spark that improvement.