Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence has reportedly refused to take a pay cut on his contract with the Cowboys. Where does this leave the former Pro Bowler and the organization as Dallas tries to deal with his $27 million salary cap hit in 2022?
After putting up 24 sacks from 2017-2018 Lawrence has only had 14.5 sacks over the last three seasons. A broken foot cost him 10 games in 2021 and exacerbated the issue, but even with those games back DeMarcus would still clearly not be as productive a pass rusher as his Pro Bowl seasons.
While still an elite run defender and consistently able to pressure opposing quarterbacks, Tank's paid like a premiere sack artist and the Cowboys aren't entirely unreasonable to ask for some relief on his contract. He's tied with New York's Leonard Williams as the second-highest paid defensive end in football, trailing only Cleveland's Myles Garrett.
But now that Lawrence has declined to help the Cowboys reduce his cap number in 2022, where does that leave Dallas?
The Cowboys could next look to restructure DeMarcus' deal, reducing his $19 million base salary and creating about $12 million in cap space. But this would push dead money into the later years of the contract and make Lawrence, who turns 30 next month, even harder to release down the road.
A trade seems unlikely; hard to imagine a team willing to take on that $19 million salary for a guy who isn't posting elite sack numbers. If Tank was still that guy then we wouldn't even be having this discussion.
If the Cowboys decide to make Lawrence a cap casualty now then they gain $8 million in relief. They could also go with the June-1st option and create $19 million in cap space this year but then deferring $11 million in dead money onto the 2023 salary cap.
Remember, the June-1st option always sounds nicer than it is. That money isn't available from March-May to sign free agents or conduct other business, meaning you better have a big contract re-signing or something else in the works for the summer to make it worth doing.
Complicating matters further is that the defensive end position is already in upheaval with Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong about to become unrestricted free agents. Releasing Lawrence would leave only Tarell Basham and Chauncey Golston as meaningful players from last season.
Without question, the Cowboys need to create cap space this offseason. But they also need talented players to compete in 2022. Much like the discussion with Amari Cooper at WR, there's grave concern that Dallas is ultimately weakening the roster in its pursuit for financial flexibility.
With only about a week left before free agency begins, the futures of DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, and others should soon be realized. Dallas would clearly like to keep Lawrence by offering the pay cut, but now we'll see just how much they still value him.