The Pittsburgh Steelers placed the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell for the second straight season and were unable to reach a long-term deal by mid-July. As a result, Bell is sitting out and is looking at missing his third straight game, costing him over $2 million.
The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Lawrence prior to free agency last spring and the early talks were so far apart that the sides did not have a conversation from March to July.
Lawrence happily signed the $17.143 million franchise tag this offseason, nearly tripling what he made in the first four years of his rookie contract. Publicly, he did not express any frustration at not getting a long-term deal.
As Bell sits, Lawrence does not wonder what would happen if the Cowboys placed the tag on him again next year.
“There are different ways you can handle business,” Lawrence said recently. “I believe in the Cowboys organization and the Jones family. If they want me here, they will keep me here. If they don't, then they will let me know. Or they can hold out and wait and wait and wait and then you know You never know so, it’s different ways to go and I’m just being patient and waiting on my turn.”
This summer, the Cowboys signed Zack Martin to a six-year extension that guaranteed him $40 million. Next summer, the Cowboys can look to get multi-year extensions with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott for the first time.
They can also sign Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl last season. In the first two games of this season, the coaches have credited Lawrence with five tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, four quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery.
Cap space will not be an issue.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Cowboys have $14.2 million in cap space, which they can carry over to next year’s cap. At a current projection of a $190 million adjusted salary cap for 2019, the Cowboys could have as much as $59 million in room.
They will be out of the big cap hits from Tony Romo and Dez Bryant that are accounting for $16.9 million of room this year. The biggest dead money hit for 2019 at the moment is $1.6 million for cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
For years, the Cowboys have had to either create room by restructuring contracts just to get under the cap or restructure deals in order to sign quality players. Even as executive vice president Stephen Jones has said the Cowboys do not believe the best way to construct a team is by overpaying free agents, they will finally have the ability to do so without the cap maneuverings next year.
But Stephen and Jerry Jones have always said the best way to do business is to re-sign their own players because they know them best. It takes out some -- not all -- of the risk in handing out big money.
The Cowboys and Lawrence’s agent, David Canter, could not find a middle ground on a multi-year deal this year. Lawrence had just one big season, a solid second season in 2015 with eight sacks and two seasons (2014 and ’16) in which he had one sack combined. He also had back surgeries in consecutive offseasons.
“I’m better than I was last year,” Lawrence said. “I’m not a one-year pony. Just focusing on myself, making sure me and the guys are playing up to our expectation.”
In the past month, the Los Angeles Rams signed defensive tackle Aaron Donald to a six-year, $135 million extension that included $87 million guaranteed, and the Chicago Bears traded for defensive end Khalil Mack and gave him a six-year extension worth $141 million that included $90 million in guaranteed money.
“I want to say congratulations to those guys for getting their big payday. I see how hard those guys work and it’s finally coming to them,” Lawrence said. “I'm hoping to see Le'Veon get what he wants. Seeing him battling with that issue the last two years, hopefully Le'Veon can get what he want. But I'm just going to be patient.”
The Cowboys have used the franchise tag on the same player in consecutive years just once. Anthony Spencer was given the tag in 2012 and ’13, pocketing $19.4 million. He had his best season in 2012 with 11 sacks, but he missed all but 34 snaps in 2013 because of a knee injury.
"You're getting paid the top of your position, but at the same time everybody wants a long-term contract," Spencer said during the 2014 season. "But what guarantee do you have in a long-term contract? You're only guaranteed what they give you up front. Usually the franchise tag is just about the same or a little bit more than what you're going to get for signing up front. I was fortunate to get two of them, so I ended up coming out of it ahead. I ended up making more than what I was asking for in the beginning so it didn't really affect me in a negative way."
Bell’s situation has grown tricky in Pittsburgh. Teammates called him out for not reporting in time to play against the Cleveland Browns. He has been removed from the depth chart on the team’s media release.
Lawrence knows this: If he performs, the price goes up.
“It always goes up,” he said. “Just sit back and wait. They have to make a move sooner or later. I'll be 27 next year. I ain't trippin’.”