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Cowboys news: Lawrence’s contract situation & loss of Gregory hangs dark cloud over Cowboys pass rush

The Cowboys have time to get an extension done with their best pass rusher but things are very cloudy right now.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Will Dallas Cowboys vs. DeMarcus Lawrence become Le’Veon Bell standoff? - Christian D'Andrea, SBNation.com
Another year, another franchise tag for Lawrence. Though the Cowboys have time, they don't want to run the risk of having a public standoff like the Steelers had with RB Le'Veon Bell.

Why a resolution — and the deal Lawrence wants — is still likely

Where Bell’s struggle came against a historically prudent franchise, Lawrence bumps up against a much less predictable foe. Jones hasn’t been shy about spending in his three decades of owning the Cowboys. He’s also made sure to take care of homegrown stars even if the financials don’t make a ton of sense, like when he handed Jason Witten a four-year extension in 2017 — when Witten was already 35 years old. Or when he brought back a since-retired Witten on a new deal worth up to $5 million.

His generosity hasn’t been limited solely to marquee players. Last summer Jones engineered a six-year, $84 million extension for Martin that kept him from hitting free agency. Fellow linemen Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick have also signed lengthy, lucrative extensions in recent years as well.

Lawrence and his team have until July 15 to work out a deal with Jones, and they’ll have plenty of ammunition to back up their case. The 265-pound defensive end has been one of the league’s most effective edge rushers the past two seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors in a prove-it 2018 after the team first saddled him with the franchise tag. His 25 sacks the past two years are tied for the fourth-most in the league. His 49 quarterback hits are tied for seventh-most.

Cowboys' pass rush could be in trouble without Lawrence, Gregory on field - Todd Archer, ESPN
DeMarcus Lawrence has no intentions of playing on the franchise tag but the Cowboys hope it's just a placeholder. Having already lost Randy Gregory for an undisclosed amount of time, the Cowboys pass rush is taking hits.

How does that Cowboys’ pass rush look now?

Tyrone Crawford was third on the Cowboys with 5.5 sacks in 2018. He is as dependable as they come, but he has not had more than 5.5 sacks in a season in his career. Jaylon Smith was fourth on the team in sacks with four. He is a linebacker, and though the Cowboys blitzed more than they had in recent years, that is likely the top end of his sack production.

The eight players under contract for 2019 to record at least half a sack last season combined for 10.5 sacks. You can see why executive vice president Stephen Jones listed defensive line as the top need from the NFL scouting combine last week.

”In our mind you can never have enough defensive line depth in terms of making sure we’ve got [enough], especially the way [defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] likes to play them,” Stephen Jones said. “He likes them to play, quote, unquote, with their hair on fire. So I think you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen. That’s always going to be a situation.”

Cowboys cap allocations for re-signing big stars means some have to go - DannyPhantom, Blogging The Boys
The Cowboys have a lot of important players they’ll need to sign in the near future, but that means others will not be brought back, it's the reality of the league.

4. Others will have to go, too

When the top players are demanding so much of the cap resources, that doesn’t leave much money to go around for others. The trade-off there is that some decent players will walk. Players like La’el Collins, Anthony Brown, and Maliek Collins are quality contributors, but looking ahead - not all of them will be re-signed once their contract is up. The organization will have to make some tough choices in determining who they want to retain and who hits the free agent market. It’s not pleasant to see some of the players we’ve come to appreciate get away, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

The team has no choice to let some good players walk in order to afford their stars. We can all recall the moans and groans across Cowboys Nation when some of the players above moved on, but the front office does a great job replenishing talent.

Market value for Cole Beasley surging ahead of 2019 NFL free agency - Patrik Walker, 247Sports
Cole Beasley is valuable to the Cowboys but his value may be surging on the open market where teams overpay every year.

Anchoring what I’ve heard is a recent report from Ben Rogers of 105.3FM the Fan, who says there are upwards of 12 teams “prepared to pursue” Beasley once the free agency floodgates open — with legal tampering to begin on March 11 and the new league year opening on March 13.

Rogers adds other key pieces to the equation that support Beasley’s market that much more, with Golden Tate and Adam Humphries reportedly seeking $14 million per year and $10 million per year, respectively.

That makes Beasley the more affordable talent, depending on how his new deal will be structured, and he’s also viewed as the better route-runner of the three.

There are ways to make this work if you’re the Cowboys — which include talking down that number and/or stretching the term of the deal — but it’ll take some doing and while a re-signing is still possible, it remains more and more like a long shot at this point. This is especially true considering they still need to finalize the deals on DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones and Ezekiel Elliott, respective to their position on the team’s list of priorities this offseason.

Linebacker Justin March-Lillard re-signs one-year deal with Cowboys - David Helman, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys made a preemptive free agency strike to re-sign linebacker Justin March-Lillard.

Last season, he played 189 special teams snaps, accounting for roughly 45 percent of the team’s total. He finished with seven special teams tackles to go with one defensive tackle, and he was an active participant in all 16 games.

The Cowboys didn’t lean much on March-Lillard on defense last season, as he accounted for just eight defensive snaps. But he does offer them some depth among their linebacker corps. With him re-signed to the roster, the Cowboys now have six of last year’s seven linebackers under contract for 2019.

Cowboys re-sign veteran safety and linebacker ahead of free agency - Patrik Walker, 247sports
The Cowboys have to re-up depth players ahead of free agency with the signings of Justin March-Lillard and Darian Thompson.

To that end, the Cowboys decided not tender safety Darian Thompson for 2019 and were instead willing to let him walk in free agency.

That didn’t last long though, with the team opting to re-sign him not long after that decision, to a one-year, $720,000 deal.

Thompson was the team’s sole restricted free agent this offseason and as a former third-round pick, could’ve landed an original round tender worth $2.035 million. That’s a hefty sum for a player who delivered no stats in 2018. Instead, the more likely outcome was the veteran returning on a contract not far above the veteran minimum.

For the record, the veteran minimum is exactly $720,000.

The club saved $1.32 million with the gamble.

Cowboys re-sign safety Darian Thompson to a one-year deal - Dave Halprin, Blogging The Boys
Darian Thompson, at one point in time, was on the Cowboys’ draft radar. Today, Dallas decided to keep him around.

Thompson played mainly on special teams once he was signed by the Cowboys and logged over 30% of the special teams snaps during four of the Cowboys last five regular-season games.

According to Todd Archer, the Cowboys hope that this year Thompson can contribute more on regular defense. The team likes his athleticism and hope that after being able to go through the offseason program, he might get some snaps on defense.

Star Evaluation: CB Jourdan Lewis maximized his production despite minimized opportunities - Rob Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
Jourdan Lewis didn’t get a lot of opportunities but he made the most of every one he had. Should Cowboys give him more opportunities in 2019?

What’s Been Good: “Next man up” is one of head coach Jason Garrett’s popular adages. Jourdan Lewis embodied that phrase at different times last season – not so much as an injury replacement, but simply because he stayed ready for opportunities. A third-round draft pick in 2017, Lewis went from part-time starter to fourth cornerback in 2018 under new secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard. But he made impactful plays when called upon (see “2018 Highlight” below) and pitched in on offense and special teams (2 “jet sweep” runs for 12 yards, 2 kickoff returns for 18 yards).

Even if the cost is same, Amari Cooper edges out any idea of bringing in Antonio Brown -Kristi Scales, SportsDay
Antonio Brown is going to be traded and his name will connect with the Cowboys at some point. Dallas is plenty happy with their man, Amari Cooper, no need for AB.

Antonio Brown has some baggage, but no receiver in history has been as productive as AB. He’s the only player in league history with six consecutive seasons of 100-plus catches.

But Amari Cooper is younger than Brown, he’s less expensive, and he doesn’t have the ego/baggage that Brown would bring to the team. When it comes to long-term, Cooper is probably the better option.

The reports around the league are that the Steelers have drawn serious interest from only six or seven teams regarding Brown. That shows you how much Brown’s attitude has affected his value. It’s a shame because he’s so gifted and so much fun to watch.