DeMarcus Lawrence was among the leagues best pass rushers a season ago for the Dallas Cowboys, producing 14.5 sacks to finish third in the league to Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell. With Campbell's career output coming in his tenth season and Jones leading the league in sacks as a six-year veteran, Lawrence's outburst in the final year of his rookie contract provides plenty of optimism for his future in Dallas -- despite it being long-awaited from the Cowboys.
Lawrence will play under the franchise tag in 2018. The Cowboys are optimistic that a long-term deal will get done with their top pass rusher, but are more so asking Lawrence to prove that last season was no oddity before backing up the Brinks truck.
Feeling that he can only earn more money with a continued effort to put injuries behind him and live up to his draft status as the 34th overall pick, Lawrence can become the first Cowboys defender since 2010-11 to record double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons.
Of course, this sampling of future Hall of Fame Defensive End DeMarcus Ware's career with the Cowboys is nothing too out of the ordinary. His rookie year being the only exception, Ware had at least 10 sacks every year in Dallas from 2006-2012. Ware lost this streak in 2013 in just 13 games for the Cowboys, signing with the Denver Broncos next season.
Just how well the Cowboys are going to handle high expectations with a very young roster seems to be this season's most pressing question. The answer is both simple and helplessly complex. The Cowboys will be relying on any proven players to continue in their progression, most of which working with new position coaches.
DeMarcus Lawrence has to top this list for the Cowboys, as the rest of their talented defensive line will only fall into place should Lawrence be a consistent force from the strong side.
A complete player in 2017, Lawrence was a stunningly efficient pass rusher with elite technique to beat opposing right tackles with ease and get to the quarterback. These massive strides for a healthy Tank Lawrence are the biggest reason Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys can expect to field a stout defense in support of a patented ball control offense.
Covering the changes the Cowboys have made on offense is well beyond the scope of this article, but not lost to Lawrence and his camp seeking a new contract are the corresponding changes around Lawrence at both defensive tackle and end.
Lawrence himself spoke to the importance of the Cowboys 3T-DT position last season, a starting spot that belonged to Maliek Collins at the time. Seemingly long gone are these days though, as Collins finished the season as the Cowboys one technique and opened the door for David Irving to start alongside Lawrence.
With the Cowboys now preparing for Oxnard, they'll be without Collins in any capacity for a while, as he deals with a second broken foot in three years. Irving is also starting 2018 with another four game suspension, turning the Cowboys depth at DT from a strength to an overall team weakness.
This cannot be an excuse for DeMarcus Lawrence, nor would he want it to be. There's a reason the Cowboys have been noncommittal to Irving (with Collins still on his rookie contract), while already laying the groundwork for Lawrence to earn a lucrative deal next summer -- at the latest.
As mentioned, the Cowboys sweeping changes across their coaching staff has already had a positive impact on the growth of several key players. With Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli specializing in DL play however, this is a group that remains unchanged from a coaching perspective.
Marinelli's patented rotation with his front four has all the numbers it needs to deploy one of the best units the Cowboys have fielded in years. One player that shouldn't be coming off the field much is DeMarcus Lawrence.
Whether or not this is a sack artist just getting started in the silver and blue or one that will reach his peak at an inopportune time is a defining question for the Cowboys in 2018. Missing the playoffs at 9-7 to effectively "waste" Lawrence's dominant 2017 stretch could be all the fuel Tank needs to push on into another contract year, or yet another example of the Cowboys never quite putting it all together.
There were just three edge rushers drafted before DeMarcus Lawrence in 2014. Only fifth overall pick Khalil Mack has put up a better season that Lawrence's 2017, following up 15 sacks in 2015 with 11 the following year and 10.5 last season.
The Cowboys drafting well is nothing new, and all indications is that they're patience with Lawrence is about to be an example of this for year's to come.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
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