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Cowboys news: The next steps now that DeMarcus Lawrence has been tagged

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Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Cowboys franchise tag DE DeMarcus Lawrence - Jeremy Bergman, NFL.com
We hoped it wouldn’t come to this but the Cowboys were not able to reach agreement with Demarcus Lawrence on a long-term deal and Tuesday they franchised Lawrence, giving them 4.5 months to reach a deal.

Lawrence earned $17.1 million on the franchise tag last season. If Lawrence plays the 2019 season on the tag, he’s expected to earn over $20 million.

There’s no doubt Lawrence is deserving of a long-term deal somewhere. Over the past two seasons, during which he missed nary a game, Lawrence racked up 25 sacks and forced six fumbles. He’s a top-five pass rusher in a league that is beginning to value players who hit quarterbacks as much as quarterbacks themselves.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told NFL Network’s Judy Battista last week that Dallas was “very confident we can get a deal done” with Lawrence, but didn’t provide a timeline. In addition to retaining Lawrence’s services, the Cowboys are also prioritizing re-signing Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott this offseason.

Monday’s news doesn’t end the saga that is and will be Dallas’ negotiations with Lawrence. It’s just the beginning.

Cowboys Franchising D-Law, Hope For New Deal - Rob Phillips, DallasCowboys.como
It’s possible we won’t see Lawrence in any official capacity as a Cowboy until his contract situation is resolved.

Lawrence, the Cowboys’ second-round pick in 2014, has played two straight full seasons and made two straight Pro Bowls since undergoing back surgery after the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He has tallied 25 total sacks in that span.

Lawrence has yet to have surgery for an old labrum injury he aggravated last October against the Texans when his shoulder briefly popped out of place. He appeared in all 18 games, including playoffs, and finished with 10.5 sacks.

Lawrence has said repeatedly he wants to be a Cowboy for a long time.

“I got big goals not just for me but for us as a team and as an organization,” he told reporters at the Pro Bowl in January. “So I feel freely to tell the organization, I love being a Cowboy. And I love playing hard.”

Source: Cowboys franchise Lawrence again - Todd Archer, ESPN.com
Lawrence has been the dominant edge rusher the team has desperately sought since DeMarcus Ware left following his Hall of Fame/Ring of Honor-worthy time with the Cowboys.

Lawrence had five of his sacks in the first four games of 2018, and he closed the season with a sack in each of the final two games. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli considers Lawrence one of the best defensive linemen in the game -- not just because of his pass-rushing ability, but also his willingness to play the run.

The Cowboys traded up in the second round of the 2014 draft to take Lawrence with the 34th overall pick. His rookie year was hampered by a foot injury suffered in training camp, but he had two sacks in the two playoff games. In 2015, he led the Cowboys with eight sacks.

After that season, he had his first of two back surgeries and had just one sack in 2016 after missing the first four games of the season because of a suspension. The Cowboys sat him for the final three games of the regular season in order to get him healthier for the playoffs.

Demarcus Lawrence Reportedly Given Franchise Tag by Cowboys Amid Contract Talks - Rob Goldberg, Bleacher Report
While the two sides don’t have an agreement, the franchise designation means Lawrence isn’t free to test the free agent waters.

Still, the Cowboys will ensure one of their most important players doesn’t leave in free agency this offseason.

The 26-year-old had a breakout year in 2017, totaling 14.5 sacks with 58 tackles and four forced fumbles. He got pressure on the opposing quarterback in a league-best 14.9 percent of snaps, per NFL Research.

While there was some concern he was a one-year wonder, Lawrence followed it up with another big season in 2018. He tallied 10.5 sacks to go with 64 tackles, even adding the first interception of his career.

Pro Football Focus noted the overall impact he made during the year:

Cowboys tagging DE DeMarcus Lawrence is the smart move - Mark Lane, wfaa.com
The Cowboys negotiations with Lawrence are playing out as the first step in figuring out how, exactly, the team can keep all of the team’s young stars for the near future.

The move was actually pretty shrewd for the Cowboys to make the announcement with a day to go before the March 5 deadline at 3:00 p.m. Central Time.

To be clear, all the Cowboys have done Monday is place protective boundaries around the rights to negotiate with Lawrence. All it means is that Dallas will have the exclusive rights to talk about a long-term contract with the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end.

The reality is that the franchise tag has no ramifications until the July 15 deadline at 3:00 p.m. Central Time. If the Cowboys go beyond that point with Lawrence, then the two sides are prevented from negotiating a new contract until the end of the season. At that point, Lawrence will have the choice between signing the franchise tag one-year offer or stop showing up for work. Neither of those choices are particularly great for either side so working out an extension would be presumably be the preferred option.

Star Evaluation: Antwaun Woods’ Sudden Rise - Nick Eatman, DallasCowboys.com
Over at the Mothership, Nick Eatman continues the site’s evaluation of the team’s roster by looking at an unexpectedly strong performance from a minor 2018 trade acquisition.

What’s Been Good: About a week into camp, he was “the guy who fought with Travis Frederick,” but before too long Woods started to get some recognition for his play. By the end of the year, he was a household name for the Cowboys and one of the biggest surprises of the season. The Cowboys haven’t always had a big-bodied, run-stuffing tackle such as Woods, but was able to provide a presence in the middle, along with some pass-rushing skills. With the Cowboys playing most of the year without David Irving, and suffered injuries to both Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Colllins at times, Woods offered the Cowboys some quality depth at the position.

What to expect — and not to expect — from the return of Jason Witten – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
And for those of us wondering what, exactly, the return of Jason Witten can bring to the team’s offensive fortunes, Bob Sturm does his usual deep dive into the possibilities.

Overall, my study confirmed what we knew. Jason Witten doesn’t need to play 1,000 snaps anymore, but if the number is down to a more normal 600-700, he should be able to offer plenty. He can still run block very well. He can still get open at high enough levels. He can still assist in the red zone and on third downs, and he still brings value.

In other words, if we assume that Jason Witten can return as the Jason Witten who left in April 2018, the Cowboys are getting a tight end who A) does not in any way compare to the Jason Witten of 2009, and B) can still be an average- to slightly-above-average starting tight end.

The man who once brought home 1,000-yard seasons is gone, but even 60 catches for 600 yards would be welcomed by most NFL teams. Cowboys fans, however, who saw Witten in his prime, are disconnected from that reality.

Iowa’s Anthony Nelson is a versatile defensive lineman. Does he fit the Cowboys’ defensive philosophy? – Kevin Turner, The Athletic
Does Nelson’s positional flexibility make him a likely target for the Cowboys’ draft?

Tyrone Crawford was 6’4 and around 285 pounds when he came into the league. Anthony Nelson is not that. At 6’7 and 271 pounds, he’s obviously taller and leaner than Crawford. When I compare the two, I’m comparing them in the roles they could play.

Playing left defensive end, Nelson totaled 23 sacks over his last three years, and was second in the Big 10 in sacks in 2018.

He’s not your classic flexible, bendy defensive end. He wins with his hands and upper-body strength, while also doing a great job of keeping his lower body moving upon contact. His contact balance is phenomenal. He also shows an array of pass-rush moves which really helps out his overall evaluation, showing that he’s advanced as a pass rusher to help compensate for his lack of fluidity and explosiveness. More than anything, it’s all in his hands. He uses great hand placement and packs a heavy punch that can rock opposing offensive tackles off balance. Last but not least, he’s a try-hard guy with high effort and a relentless attitude at all times.

Full Cowboys mock draft, including a slot WR who provides something Cole Beasley can't - John Owning, SportsDay
And for those who love mock drafts John Owning puts a stake in the ground and supports it with film research and such.

Since the Cowboys likely won't find a slot receiver who can immediately replace Cole Beasley's route-running ability, it makes sense to target one who can provide something Beasley can't.

At 5-10, 187, Mecole Hardman -- who only has two years of receiver experience -- is still a bit raw from a route-running perspective but his 4.33 speed gives him the ability to attack vertically in ways Beasley couldn't (4.49 speed). Hardman combines that speed with outstanding quickness out of his stance and breaks.