Things have been moving along for the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason. The completion (for now) of the safety dance with the reported deal with George Iloka now leaves them only two real issues in free agency, an edge rusher and a running back. With negotiations still alive for a trade to acquire DE Robert Quinn from the Miami Dolphins, they may be just one last dive into the bargain bin for that most replaceable of all NFL positions, a backup ball carrier, to be set for the draft .
But there is still one critical item on their offseason to-do list, and it has been the biggest concern all along: Getting a new deal in place for DeMarcus Lawrence, who has had the second franchise tag placed on him, one he has not yet accepted. He is reportedly not planning on attending any of the offseason practices unless the deal is done, and is even delaying shoulder surgery. This has led to the persistent chorus demanding that the team get off their collective backside and get his contract done to avoid more tension and the eliminate the specter of a holdout.
Here’s the real problem, though. There may be basically nothing the team can do to entice Lawrence to accept any deal. He is going to wait.
Specifically, he is going to wait because of this: Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans and the Seattle Seahawks’ Frank Clark also were franchise tagged by their teams, and have not gotten deals worked out. Along with Lawrence, they compose the top three EDGE rushers that were set to enter free agency this season, and were among the top free agents at any position. Now, they are in a standoff with their teams and with each other. All are waiting to see what the others get with the hopes of demanding more.
These are going to be huge deals. Dee Ford was a fourth pass rusher on the franchise tag, but the Kansas City Chiefs worked out a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, and he wound up with a five-year, $85 million deal ($17 million average per year) with $20.5 fully guaranteed. And the Lions gave Trey Flowers, who was seen as close to or perhaps above Ford in value, a $90 million ($18 million APY) deal, with $40 million at signing and a total of $56 million in guarantees.
That is now the floor for Lawrence, Clark, and Clowney. They are all looking to get more than Flowers, and the large guaranteed money is certainly going to influence them. They all three will expect better offers. And none of them want to set the new floor for the others.
Very few people will seriously argue that Lawrence is not worth a better deal than either Clark or Clowney. However, you can absolutely count among that minority the agents for the latter two.
This is just more evidence of how the Cowboys made a huge mistake in not locking Lawrence up in 2018. They thought they could work out a deal now if he had a good season (which he did), but it is likely they expected to be working in a more isolated situation. They almost certainly did not expect there to be four EDGE rushers getting the franchise tag this year. It was a serious miscalculation, and now they have to live with what has become a three-way staredown between the players still on the tag. Ford essentially blinked first and may have left millions on the table. None of the remaining trio wants to move too fast and also pass up on money, particularly in guaranteed dollars.
It is a game of chicken, and not one between player and owner, but among the three pass rushers. It is not at all unlikely that all three will go down to the last day they can sign an extension (July 15th), or very close to it.
There is nothing the Cowboys can do to make things happen any faster. Even if they were to put a record breaking offer on the table, like $25 million APY with most of it guaranteed, there is no reason for Lawrence to sign it before the last hour - because one of the other guys might get a few dollars more that he could have had if he had waited.
It’s not really up to the team, now. They had their chance before the tag was issued, but when they didn’t get it done by that deadline, then timing passed entirely into Lawrence’s hands. This is in no way saying he is to blame, because all he is doing is trying to maximize his income as any player should do. Dallas created the situation by not being more proactive a year ago, and then not taking a more aggressive approach to making him happy weeks ago. Now Lawrence can basically make money just by sitting patiently because Dallas inadvertently gave him a position of almost total power. And though the tag supposedly gives the team some insurance in this situation, it should be remembered that the Pittsburgh Steelers thought the same thing about Le’Veon Bell. The Cowboys could only get anywhere at this point by breaking the bank - and that ain’t in Stephen Jones’ DNA.
So they wait, hoping Clark or Clowney will jump first to help break up the logjam. But their agents are not stupid, and they all can clearly see the equation. Whoever goes first likely winds up third.
All the complaining about the Cowboys not doing anything is absolutely pointless. They can’t negotiate with someone who has no intention or motivation to do so. It would not just be foolish for Lawrence and his agent to do so, but financially irresponsible. If you like to see NFL owners squirm, then enjoy this. That is pretty much all the Jones family, and the owners of the Texans and Seahawks, can really do at this point. The Cowboys in particular had their chance and blew it completely. Now they have to suffer the consequences. Those are going to very, very costly.
It is a complicated but very, very slow dance. And the players are leading the teams.