Image vis Thearon W. Henderson/ Getty Images
After the 2018 season wrapped up, the Dallas Cowboys knew they had some big decisions to make in the offseason. The list would include signing Dak Prescott to an extension, and deciding what to do with receivers Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin; but far and away the most notable and complex decision is the signing of Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence.
DeMarcus Lawrence played the 2018 season under the franchise tag, to prove that he could replicate his terrific 2017 season. He got paid $17.1 million under the tag; not too shabby in my eyes. The Cowboys have now decided that after the 2018 season Lawrence has proved himself to be a solidified “War Daddy” pass rusher as Jerry Jones would say, and want to sign him to a long term deal. So now what? Well that’s where things get complicated.
Lawrence wants to get a long-term deal signed and has said he will not play under the franchise tag in 2019. He wants to get paid elite pass rusher money, which if you haven’t noticed is very steep. That makes it hard on the Cowboys who are going to have to extend a franchise Quarterback in Dak Prescott, an all-world Running Back in Ezekiel Elliot, Pro Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and possibly Pro Bowl Cornerback Byron Jones in the next two offseasons. In other words, every dollar counts. The Cowboys had no intention of letting DeMarcus Lawrence test free agency so negotiations with Lawrence’s agent began and a deal was hoped to get done before the franchise tag deadline on March 5th. The two sides were very far apart at the scouting combine and no deal was reached by the franchise tag deadline, so the Cowboys were forced to tag Lawrence again. They want to get a multi-year deal done but had to tag him to retain his rights and continue negotiations. Lawrence has no intention of signing the $20.57 million tag and playing under it in 2019, which means a deal must be reached before the July 15th deadline. This is very far away and there is no reason for Cowboys fans to panic about getting a deal done yet, the only reason to panic in my eyes would be vastly overpaying for Lawrence in this pivotal time for the franchise.
For the Cowboys front office, this deal begins a domino effect of more, extremely important deals in the future. They have to be left with enough money after these huge deals to build a team that can compete for a championship. It all starts with Lawrence. I think he is a great player, but I’m not sure he is in the elite tier. He very well could be but I haven’t seen enough of a sample from him. Two seasons is all we are basing a presumable $100 million contract off of. That should worry the Cowboys who can’t stand to pay for a player who will disappear at times, has not been consistent and has had a past injury history. Does he deserve to be paid with the likes of JJ Watt, Justin Houston, Von Miller, and Khalil Mack? The stats say probably not.
Lawrence has a ton of leverage for a big deal with Randy Gregory, the teams’ second leader in sacks in 2018, being suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the substance abuse program again. Dallas has to keep him and that may mean paying more than he is worth. The 4 richest edge rusher contacts are those of Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Justin Houston, and J.J. Watt. So let us compare Lawrence’s stats to those players. Since Lawrence entered the League in 2014 he has racked up 34 sacks, 200 tackles, and 9 forced fumbles. Here are the stats of the four top-paid edge rushers:
- Khalil Mack: 53 sacks, 350 tackles, 15 forced fumbles
- Von Miller: 63 sacks, 284 tackles, 14 forced fumbles
- Justin Houston: 52 sacks, 215 tackles, 11 forced fumbles
- J.J. Watt: 55.5 sacks, 238 tackles, 14 forced fumbles *Missed 24 games in this span*
Those stats don’t look so great for Lawrence. He isn’t even in the same ballpark over the last 5 seasons. He’s within 18 sacks of Justin Houston who has the lowest total of the group of four and Von Miller has almost double the sacks of Lawrence over that time. He is nowhere close to the production of these four top edge rushers since he entered the league in 2014. So let us dive into Lawrence’s last 5 seasons and see what happened. His rookie year he missed games to start the year with a foot injury and recorded no sacks in the seven he played in. He followed up his rookie season with a 16 game, 8 sack year. Not bad. His next year he was given a four-game suspension for substance abuse and went on to only recorded 1 sack all year. He also dealt with back injuries during that time. Then in 2017 he exploded with 14.5 sacks and was due a new contract. He was franchised and told to prove it and he put up 10.5 sacks in 2018. None in the two playoff games I might add. Now he expects to be paid like a top of the line, proven pass rusher. That would be hard for me to stomach if I was in the Cowboys front office. Other than the last two seasons he has not been reliable and he sometimes goes missing in games or stretches of the season. Some can blame his lack of production to start his career on injuries but that is part of the problem. One just can’t stay healthy, and then can’t help the team win. You would hate to pay a player a $100 million contract and him spend half of it watching from the sideline.
There is no doubt that Lawrence is a good player and a difference maker but he isn’t in the same realm as Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt, Justin Houston or Von Miller. The average yearly salary for Mack is $23.50 million, Miller is $19.02 million, Houston is $16.83 million, and Watt is $16.67 million, all of which are for 6 years. Where does that leave Dallas’ front office? The stats say he shouldn’t get that kind of money, but it appears that he will. It is all about circumstances for contracts in the NFL and the stars are aligned for Lawrence to cash in, whether he’s worth it or not.
Again, I think Lawrence is a good player and deserves to get paid, but not elite pass rusher money after just two consecutive solid seasons. I also think the Cowboys are going to pay him elite pass rusher money. I imagine something around $17-$18 million a year for 5-6 years will be what he gets and I think for his inconsistency and level of production that is too much of a commitment, especially with the upcoming extensions that will be pivotal in the franchise’s future success. This gamble could alter the path of the Dallas Cowboys for good or bad, and as Randy Gregory recently showed, gambling doesn’t always pay off.