After the Dallas Cowboys moved on from DeMarcus Ware, the defense went on a search for their next star pass rusher. After the 2013 season, Ware was coming off a season where he dealt with nagging injuries. He was age 31 and only had six sacks over 13 games so the team made a tough decision to cut him loose. But even tougher than that was the problem of replacing him. The front office tried a variety approaches as they searched for talent at defensive end. They gambled on red-flag character guys like free agent Greg Hardy and draft-slider Randy Gregory. They also invested some premium draft capital by trading up to get DeMarcus Lawrence and used a first-round draft pick to select Taco Charlton. They were trying everything they could to get one to stick.
And lo and behold, one finally did.
The team went from one DeMarcus to another when the Dallas drafted Boise State edge rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence. But it took a little time for this decision to pay off as Lawrence got off to a rough start. Over his first three seasons, he spent two of them (2014 and 2016) dealing with a variety of injuries. He was also suspended the first four games of the 2016 for violating the leagues substance abuse policy.
But then, things turned around for Lawrence. He had a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2017, turning in his first All-Pro season. He followed it up with an 10.5 sack performance this past season. While the sack numbers dropped a bit, he was all over the field and racked up plenty of other impressive numbers to feel out the stat sheet.
#Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (@TankLawrence) 2018 Stats:— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) January 2, 2019
23 QB hits
15 tackles for loss
2 forced fumbles
All on a bum shoulder. Incredible year. pic.twitter.com/hXcYvsN5th
Lawrence will be having shoulder surgery this offseason as he has been playing with a torn labrum the past two seasons. This is nothing concerning and if anything, will only point to a new and improved Tank going forward. Lawrence has demonstrated that he’s one of the league’s best defensive linemen. The Cowboys front office may have had their doubts this time last year after his breakout season, but he’s now produced back-to-back double digit sack seasons. Not to mention, he’s a force in the running game and is a leader in the locker room. Lawrence is the complete package and now it’s time for the Cowboys to reward him with a complete package.
How much is it going to cost the Cowboys to keep him in Dallas? Let’s take a look at the six highest paid edge rushers in the league and see where Lawrence fits in. The following table shows the average salary, the year they signed, their age at signing, as well as their career high and best three-year average sack total (financial numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com).
Khalil Mack topped the rankings when he signed a six-year, $141 million deal after he was traded to the Chicago Bears from the Oakland Raiders right before the start of the 2018 season. The Bears invested a great deal to get Mack as they gave up six total draft picks, including first-rounders for the next two seasons so it shouldn’t have been that surprising when he received a record deal to become the highest-paid pass rusher in the league. Mack was coming of a season where he was the league’s defensive player of the year and he was compensated handsomely for it.
Lawrence shouldn’t command that kind of money. An argument can be made that he’s not in the same tier as Von Miller and J.J. Watt either, but his new deal should eclipse both of them because of the market value of his position. Both Miller and Watt’s deals happened a few years ago and the price for a top edge rusher has gone up.
A player who’s performance more closely matches Lawrence is Arizona pass rusher Chandler Jones. If Lawrence’s worth is equivalent to that of Jones, then the only thing left to figure out is how to adjust his value for 2019. If you look at the contracts of Miller and Watt, you’ll notice that Miller’s deal is more, but that’s because his contract was signed two years after Watt’s deal. Both of them are still taking about 12% of their team’s cap space. Jones, on the other hand, is only consuming 10% of the cap.
So if we wanted to estimate Lawrence’s new deal based on being in the same tier as Chandler Jones, he would cost 10% of the 2019 salary cap. The cap for the upcoming season is projected to be from $187-$191 million, which would put Lawrence’s price tag from $18.7 M to $19.1 M annually.
Five-year, $96.5 million, with an annual average salary of $19.3 million. It includes a $22.5 million signing bonus and $46.5 initially guaranteed (signing bonus + 2019 and 2020 base salary + 2019 roster bonus). His 2021 base salary will be guaranteed if he’s still on the roster in March of 2021) which will give him a total guarantee of $62.25 million. Here is a breakdown of what that deal could look like:
That would make him the third-highest paid defensive lineman behind Mack and Aaron Donald. Spotrac does a great statistical breakdown that comes up valuing Lawrence at $19.6 million per year so that is pretty close to our estimate. Lawrence may be looking to make on the north side of $20 million annually and considering his agent is the same guy who worked a sweet deal for Olivier Vernon - Lawrence won’t come cheap. But the Cowboys front office will try to squeeze every last bit of savings they can so they’ll have the funds to pay out some other healthy contracts coming soon. Lawrence is a great guy who didn’t complain at all while playing under the tag. He didn’t hold out like Le’Veon Bell did. Week in and week out, he was out there trying to take the quarterback’s soul. You can’t put a price on soul-snatchers. Look for both sides to come out feeling like a winner on this one.
Do you think he is worth it? How much annually do you think the front office should pay to keep Lawrence in Dallas?