The deadline for the Cowboys and Lawrence to reach a long-term deal came and went, and since there had been no meaningful discussions since March, that was not surprising.
So where does that leave Lawrence and the Cowboys?
Lawrence will make $17.143 million on the franchise tag, the benefit of his breakout 14.5-sack season in 2017. In his first four years, he made about $5.3 million as the Cowboys’ second-round pick in 2014. So he will more than triple his career earnings in 2018 under the tag.
But there is no long-term security like Zack Martin received in June with the Pro Bowl right guard’s six-year extension that guaranteed him $40 million.
If Lawrence is able to put up another double-digit sack season, the Cowboys could put the franchise tag on him in 2019 at roughly $20 million if the sides are unable to reach a long-term agreement before the 2019 league year begins.
The Cowboys are able to carry Lawrence’s $17.143 million cap figure this season without any issue, but a long-term deal would have saved a substantial amount against the cap and potentially allowed them to make a bigger push for a big name (cough, cough, Earl Thomas, cough cough). Or they could have just pushed the savings into what should be a bountiful amount of cap dollars in 2019 as well.
But they also won’t have the long-term security of having their best pass rusher under contract for the future. In theory, the Cowboys could have their top pass rushers, Lawrence and David Irving, set to become unrestricted free agents after 2018, although Irving’s history -- two suspensions -- make it hard for the Cowboys to commit to him long-term.
Jerry Jones searched long and hard for a “war daddy” after releasing DeMarcus Ware after the 2013 season and Lawrence finally looked like that guy in 2017. In addition to the 14.5 sacks, he was credited by the Cowboys coaches with a staggering 52 quarterback pressures. They also credited him with 43 tackles, six tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pass deflection.
All of that earned Lawrence a Pro Bowl spot.
The last time the Cowboys used the franchise tag was in 2015 on Dez Bryant. While Bryant missed almost all of the offseason program that year, there was always a sense a long-term deal would be worked out before the deadline. It went to the final minutes, but Bryant signed a five-year deal worth $70 million after putting up three straight seasons of at least 88 catches, 1,233 yards and 12 touchdown catches from 2012 to 2014.
With Lawrence, there never was an optimistic feeling. The Cowboys and Lawrence’s agent, David Canter, spoke at the NFL scouting combine but it became clear a deal would not get done before the team had to use the franchise tag.
Since then, there was virtual silence.
Lawrence is just 26 and an ascending player, which is normally reason enough for the Cowboys to keep one of their own, like they have done over the years with Martin, Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith.
He has also had two back surgeries and was suspended the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. From Jerry Jones to Stephen Jones to Jason Garrett, nobody has expressed concern about Lawrence’s health or the suspension.
Lawrence quickly signed the tender and took part in the offseason program. He expressed no dissatisfaction with the franchise tag, but has to wonder what the organization thinks of him after he played hurt in 2016 knowing he would need another surgery and flourished in 2017.
Perhaps it will motivate him more to prove to the Cowboys, as well as the rest of the league, that he is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Nobody on the Cowboys’ roster knows Lawrence better than Tyrone Crawford. They went to Boise State together. They live near each other and ride their bikes to The Star during the season.
“DeMarcus is a different breed, different type of person,” Crawford said. “He’s not really worried about what he needs to show everybody. He’s worried about feeding his family and that’s what makes him great. He’s going to get after the quarterback regardless of who is watching. If there’s an offensive line and us in the indoor (facility) at 12 a.m. with no cameras, he’s going to try to get to that quarterback every single time. It doesn’t matter what.
“He’s not trying to show it, but he’s definitely going to do it for him and his family and he’s going to get after that quarterback this year regardless.”