The DeMarcus Lawrence contract saga continues to dominate the headlines this offseason for the Dallas Cowboys. While both sides appear to still be far apart on a new deal, many believe that it’s just a matter of time before a new agreement is reached. Right now, both sides are trying to hold out for as much as they can and it’s easy to just put it out of sight and out of mind while the two sides work things out. It’s just part of the business.
While this could all just being going through the motions, what if this “impasse” is a little harder to get over than we expect? Stephen Jones was pretty clear that they have their own price in mind on what the contract should consist of.
“We have some conviction of the range he should be in in terms of his compensation, and I’m sure they have some conviction of what they’re asking for. I’m not being critical, but therein lies the root of the negotiations.”
Both sides are playing with fire
Okay, so clearly there’s a standoff going on between the two sides, but one wrinkle in this whole things is the idea that Lawrence is putting off having his shoulder surgery until the team commits to him long term. This little predicament creates a problem because of the recovery time and when exactly he would be ready to participate in football activities. The longer this drags out, the worse off things become. Eventually, there will be a point in time where the Lawrence contract situation reaches Threat Level Midnight and things start to become dicey. What if a deal isn’t reached until close to the July 15th negotiating deadline? A late surgery could mean he misses training camp and part of the regular season. Is that really what the team would want from their new biggest financial investment on the team?
At the same time, Lawrence is playing with fire himself. If both sides are truly far away on a deal and neither side is willing to say “uncle,” then Tank could be hurting himself by not having his surgery. If he continues to put it off, the Cowboys could make the decision to rescind the franchise tag. Where would that leave Lawrence? He would enter free agency where his market value would then be impacted by a shoulder concern. Would there be a team out there willing to throw a bunch of money his way after he deliberately put off his surgery and is not fully healthy? How much money are teams going to have to spend come July when they have already done most of their heavy purchases in free agency? What if he backs himself into a one-year prove it deal with some team that wants to make sure he’s okay before throwing a substantial amount of guaranteed money his way? That would be a nightmare scenario for him.
If Lawrence got his surgery and a deal never came to fruition with Dallas this year, that’s okay - he’s still in great shape. $20.5 million for this season is nothing to shake a stick at. Plus, he would have an insurmountable amount of leverage next offseason if he put together another strong year. There is no way the Cowboys could tag him again as it would run them nearly $30 million for the 2020 season. Tank could just fold his arms and hit the free agent market where the asking price for elite pass rushers would be even more expensive than it is now.
If the Cowboys did rescind the tag and lost Lawrence it would be a huge loss for the team as they would then be without their most disruptive player, but it would also be a huge loss for Tank. Lawrence is risking losing out on a lot of money if he continues to drag this out.
The contingency plan
The Cowboys have helped their situation this offseason by adding some talent at the defensive end position. They traded for former All-Pro Robert Quinn who is a reliable pass rusher. The veteran agreed to take a pay cut as part of the trade agreement, but he’s banking on flourishing with the Cowboys during his one-year stint. If Quinn had a strong year in Dallas, the team could choose to retain him at a much cheaper cost than what it would take to re-sign Lawrence. The Cowboys also signed former Detroit Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder for depth. The last time he was healthy and played in a 4-3 system he had eight sacks. While neither of these guys are the caliber player Lawrence is, you have to be intrigued by the upside they offer on this Cowboys team.
There are other wild card factors as well. Randy Gregory has been suspended indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back for the 2019 season. The team continues to show support for him as he goes through his ordeal. Who’s to say the team doesn’t re-sign him to a cheap incentive-laced deal built around availability? Would Gregory be more willing to agree to a cheaper deal considering this organization has never gave up on him and continues to do everything they can to help him? It’s risky, but Gregory is still a talented player and should he ever put himself back on the right track, he can be a legitimate force on the defensive line.
The team also has their last two defensive end draft investments on the roster on cheap rookie deals. Taco Charlton is a first-round draft pick that hasn’t lived up to his potential, but will that ever change? Dorance Armstrong was a great bargain for the team in the fourth round last year, but how much improvement will he show in year two? These are two unproven players, but all it takes is for the worm to turn with one of these guys and the team suddenly has additional pass rush talent.
The Cowboys also have the upcoming draft to find talent as well. Defensive end isn’t off the table for pick 58 and they already have one second-round prospect (Jaylon Ferguson) scheduled for an official pre-draft visit. Then there is a lot of hype building up for Zack Allen as a possible pick for the Cowboys. NFL Draft Analyst Jonah Tuls says “Zack Allen is my Leigthon Vander this year. I’m all in.”
Zach Allen is a first round player. Never have to take him off the field. He'll play for 10 years. pic.twitter.com/L64GOCFAOW— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) March 30, 2019
Would using their top draft resource on another edge rusher change their defensive end situation? Should the Cowboys continue to be patient and wait this thing out another month to at least see what things look like until after the draft? Maybe Team Lawrence drops their asking price by then?
This is not to say that the Quinn trade or even selecting a defensive end early in the draft are moves designed to replace Lawrence, but they are moves designed to help improve the pass rushing group as a whole. Before the trade went down, Jones stated they were working on some things, and presto - here comes Quinn.
“I think we’ve got work to do there. As I said, we’re not finished yet,” Jones said. “We have some things in the mix we’re working on that may address that situation. We’ll just see how those proceed.”
Nobody wants to see this Cowboys team without Lawrence, but if things don’t progress soon - would the front office be willing to pull the plug? It’s not something we want to think about, but the team has done a great job finding additional pieces just in case. The Quinn deal is to help bolster the group and is meant to complement Lawrence, not replace him. But you never know if things change to shake up the defensive line. Lawrence has just as much to lose here as the Cowboys do and he is only hurting himself by delaying his surgery. He’s playing hardball and using this as his only piece of leverage in this negotiations, but the Cowboys are playing hardball as well. It would behoove both sides to get this ordeal cleared up as soon as possible.