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DeMarcus Lawrence contract talks expected to begin next month

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters at the Senior Bowl this week that re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was a top priority, talks about a contract extension between the Cowboys and Lawrence's agent have not yet begun. There's no panic in Lawrence's camp, however.

"It's great for them to prioritize me as being a Cowboy," said Lawrence, who's at the Pro Bowl in Orlando this week. "I'm not worried about it. I'm gonna let my agent worry about that part. ... I believe and trust in him 100 percent to get the job done."

Lawrence's agent, David Canter, who's also in Orlando for the Pro Bowl, told ESPN that he expects things will pick up in a few weeks. He plans on meeting with the Cowboys at the NFL combine, which kicks off Feb. 28 in Indianapolis. The legal tampering period runs from March 12-14 this year, with free agency officially getting underway March 14 at 4 p.m. ET.

"I would imagine that they're probably not just letting us get to free agency and leave Dallas," said Canter, who indicated that he has a good working relationship with the Cowboys' front office and expects conversations to be friendly.

"It's really up to them to want to do a deal that's in line with what the market is for a young, ascending, elite franchise-caliber defensive end," Canter said. "Whatever that number ends up being remains to be seen. But I do imagine and believe that we'll have multiple conversations over the next month or so. I think it's early right now."

Lawrence was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2017 season for the Cowboys, who finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs after going 13-3 the previous year. Lawrence had 14.5 sacks, tied for second in the league with Calais Campbell. It was the highest sack total of any Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware in 2011. Lawrence's 27 quarterback hits were tied with Aaron Donald for fifth-most in the league.

"I think DeMarcus is an unbelievably mature 25-year-old, Canter said. "And luckily, I was in a similar situation a few years ago with another unbelievably mature 25-year-old named Olivier Vernon. And things worked out pretty well for us with the Giants. The Dolphins had similar comments, and so you just kind of wait and see. Whenever the date comes that my phone rings, we're ready to talk."

Jones told the Fort Worth Star Telegram this week "that the only reason you use a franchise tag is to hopefully protect yourself if you can't get a long-term deal signed that you like" and that the goal is a long-term deal.

"Certainly, we're going to roll up our sleeves and see if we can do something with DeMarcus without having a franchise tag," Jones said.

Lawrence's response to that?

"He says, she says. I'm gonna go by what the paperwork says," Lawrence said. "I'm not worried about that. I'm gonna let my agent handle that. Trust me, he's gonna do a great job. He knows what I want and soon enough, y'all will know what I want."

The Cowboys have used the franchise tag in the past, most recently tagging wide receiver Dez Bryant in 2015 before agreeing to a five-year deal worth $70 million. Prior to that, they'd tagged offensive tackle Flozell Adams in 2002, safety Ken Hamlin in 2008 and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in 2012 and 2013. All received new contracts, with Adams remaining with the team through the 2009 season. Spencer's was for just a year due to a knee injury.

"Whether it results in a contract extension, I don't know, but we're not afraid of the franchise tag either," Canter said. "I imagine the franchise tag will be higher than the average per year that I got Olivier Vernon a couple of years ago, which is $17 million a year, and I'm sure the Cowboys know that. I can imagine, just based on having done the analytics of their books and their cap situation, it's not something they'd prefer to carry, but certainly they can and they will."

One thing Lawrence made very clear was his love for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Marinelli's passion for pass rush.

"Coach Marinelli is great. The intensity in all aspects of the game that he brings to us is tremendous," Lawrence said. "I love him to death. I love him like a father. He taught me so much about the game. I'm just grateful to be under his wing."

"That's all you want in a coach, that believes in you 100 percent, doesn't put a [ceiling] on your head -- he knows you can be greater than what you thought you could be," Lawrence said. "That's what he brings to the team and that's why we love him so much."