Remember when DeMarcus Lawrence got off to that ridiculous three-game start where he had compiled 6.5 sacks? A lot of fans got excited, however some weren’t willing to bank on Tank just yet. And the cause for pause was justified. After a disappointing season last year, many people were throwing around the “B” word as the Cowboys 2014 second-round investment didn’t look like it was working out. But a hot start, followed by three more games with three more sacks and suddenly Lawrence is looking like the real deal. The question remains - is he?
There are still 10 more regular season games to be played. What happens during that time will say a lot. A back injury plagued him last season but for all intents and purposes, it looks to be behind him now. With 9.5 sacks on the season already, he’s on his way to having a big season. In fact, he’s riding so hot now that he’s passing out t-shirt to his teammates.
Pay no attention to the fact that they put the left hand throwing Mark Brunell as the Redskins quarterback on the t-shirt instead of Kirk Cousins.
With Lawrence being in the final year of his contract, this means the Cowboys will have a big decision this offseason. Zack Martin will also be a free agent, but he’s as good as signed. This organization has seen enough from Martin to re-sign him long term. But have they seen enough from Lawrence?
Every offseason we scratch our heads wondering what the front office needs to do to somehow land a perennial edge rusher that this defense so sorely misses. And all they do to oblige is calmly draft and develop while big name free agents go sign lucrative deals with other teams. Year after year, that approach has left the defense deficient when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback. Except this year is not one of those years. A draft resource the team acquired is finally demonstrating some real results on the football field. If Lawrence ends up on the north side of 15 sacks, how can you not say he’s one of the stronger pass rushers in the game?
Reaching the 15 sack mark is not something that comes easy.
The Cowboys gave up a third-round pick in order to move up to select Lawrence and we all know how much the team loves their draft picks. Over the last two drafts, they’ve used third-rounders to take Jourdan Lewis and Maliek Collins, both who figure to be long term fixtures in this defense. But the organization saw something in Lawrence and had to have him. And maybe, just maybe - what they saw is finally materializing.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli recently said it takes defensive ends a few years to develop and that Lawrence’s injuries have hindered his development. He’s healthy now and that’s a big deal because and all of his skills are on full display. And based on early results this season - these skills looks pretty darn good. He even has graduated to playing some RDE and taking on left tackles.
Future All-Pro DE DeMarcus Lawrence beating Joe Staley for the strip-sack. pic.twitter.com/pOmPY5xn7Q— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 23, 2017
It’s possible that Tank is turning into the player that the team has hoped he would be. But have they seen enough to push a big pile of chips in the middle of the pot? The Cowboys have a few choices here. They could pat themselves on the back for finding a legitimate pass rusher and sign him to a long-term deal. Boom, just like that the plan worked - build through the draft and keep your good players. Or, they could feel that his explosive season during a contract year has driven his price up so much and to where it would be a risky play to throw a lot of money at a player with just one season of elite production. And then there’s third option. The Cowboys could buy themselves another year and franchise tag him. That would allow them to wait it out and make sure that pesky back injury doesn’t return. It also gives them a longer look at what a healthy Tank can do. But the tag price for a defensive end isn’t cheap. The New York Giants tagged defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul this year for a price of $16.9 million. Is Tank worth a 2018 cap hit of $17 million for a one-year rental?
The Cowboys were faced with a similar issue with Anthony Spencer in 2012. The team wasn’t quite sure what they had in Spencer so they tagged him. He would have 11 sacks that season, but the team still had reservations in the offseason of 2013 so they slapped the tag on him again. Spencer would only play 34 snaps the following year which meant the Cowboys completely overpaid for his services. Of course, that’s just one way to look at it. Another way is that the team dodged a bullet by not having to eat a big chunk of dead money from a long-term deal. Spencer was pushing 30-years-old back then and had a large sample size to go off of. Sure, he could have been a late bloomer, but the team had reasons to be hesitant. Lawrence is just 25 years old and both the two seasons where he’s been healthy, he’s shown some great ability.
The franchise tag buys the team a little more time, but it comes with a pricey 2018 cap hit. If Tank continues to play at a high level like the team hopes, then he’s just going to be that much more expensive to sign long term. Lawrence could end up being one of the big pieces to a dominant defensive front for the Cowboys. The team needs to shore up his services and sign him to a long-term deal. If his performance dips during the remaining games of the season, then they could choose to proceed more cautiously, although it will indubitably lower his free agent price.
Through all the misfires of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory, the Cowboys have finally hit on someone and it’s imperative to keep him in a Cowboys uniform. With years of listening to people complain about how this team has missed on defensive talent, the worst thing they could do is finally hit on someone and then turn around a let him get away.
What should the Cowboys do with DeMarcus Lawrence this offseason?
This poll is closed
Sign him to a long-term deal
Let him walk if his price is too high
Franchise tag him