No, it's not DeMarcus Lawrence. He's just in the third year of his rookie contract, counting a meager $1.5 million against the salary cap. Randy Gregory, also a second-round pick and in his just second year, is making a little less than that.
Obviously, Ryan Russell and Charles Tapper couldn't be it. They're also on their rookie deals and were taken in the fifth and fourth rounds of their respective drafts. Even if we count Jack Crawford and David Irving as defensive ends, they're both making near the league minimum.
Making an average of nearly $3 million of the course of his new contract is Benson Mayowa, who signed with Dallas as a free agent last March. While not a huge contract by defensive end standards, it's still a lot for an undrafted guy with just two sacks in three years. It says just how much potential the Cowboys perceive in Mayowa.
Turning 25 in August, Mayowa has been a three-year backup; his rookie year with the Seattle Seahawks and the last two with the Oakland Raiders. He has one sack in each of the last two years. During that time he also started three games as an outside rusher in the Raiders' 3-4 defense.
Benson Mayowa played DE in college and will return to that role with the Cowboys. Dallas is clearly hoping that going back to his true position, plus getting coached by Rod Marinelli, will give Mayowa his best chance to succeed at the professional level.
How much do the Cowboys believe in Mayowa? Just to put the money in perspective; Mayowa has the 17th-highest average salary on the team at $2.75 million. Veteran starting safety Barry Church only averages $2.2 million. Cole Beasley, a proven roleplayer and a pseudo-starter for the offense, averages $3.4 million a year.
It's important to remember that Dallas knew about Randy Gregory's suspension in February. They'd also likely decided that they weren't going to bring back Greg Hardy. They perceived a need for a defensive end who could start and signed Mayowa, it would seem, to be that guy.
After all, it's not like Gregory is a guarantee to start once he comes back from the suspension. Not only has he yet to prove himself in real NFL action but one more marijuana-related violation gets him a 10-game ban.
The cupboard wasn't exactly bare before Mayowa was signed, though. I actually was excited for what David Irving or Jack Crawford might do at defensive end. There were also some flexibility options to use Tyrone Crawford at DE for four weeks.
Clearly, Dallas liked something about Benson Mayowa beyond just a role he could fill. They paid him very well to become a Cowboy.
Now, with Lawrence joining Gregory in suspension, the pressure increases on Mayowa to live up to that contract. He needs to be a starter and contribute beyond just filling space in the front seven.
It never feels good when your team signs a player and your first reaction is, “Who?!” That was my first exposure to Benson Mayowa.
Hopefully, my next one will be a, “Wow!”