Now that we’ve all had time to digest the signing of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, what’s become apparent is both sides got what they wanted, and the deal is being used as an example of how to conduct business in the NFL. Pro Football Talk noted that if the Steelers had negotiated like the Cowboys, Le’Veon Bell would still be in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Steelers, take note. The Dallas Cowboys have shown you and the rest of the league how to properly structure a long-term deal for a player who is restricted by the franchise tag.
And if the Steelers were willing (they’re definitely able) to structure contracts this way, running back Le’Veon Bell would still be on the team. But because Pittsburgh stubbornly refuses to fully guarantee money beyond the first year of a contract, it never made sense for Bell to trade in a one-year fully-guaranteed franchise tender for a long-term deal with no clear commitment beyond the first season.
The Falcons can learn something from how the Dallas Cowboys handled their situation with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence, 26, signed a $105 million, five-year contract with the Cowboys on Tuesday.
Like the Falcons, the Cowboys have several young players who have big deals coming up. The Cowboys cleared $9.5 million under the salary cap by reaching the deal with Lawrence and now have room to move on to quarterback Dak Prescott.
The Falcons have several players coming up for new deals headlined by middle linebacker Deion Jones, strongside linebacker DeVondre Campbell and safety Keanu Neal.
The idea of structuring a contract so there is room for other star players to sign deals later was a point of contention in the Cowboys negotiations with Lawrence. In an excellent article by Todd Archer using yesterday’s press conference as a jumping off point to discuss the deal, he notes that Stephen Jones and DeMarcus Lawrence discussed that very point.
On the call, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones mentioned the team had to have the ability to spread the salary-cap space around to retain players such as Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones, and others going forward to build a Super Bowl roster.
“That is not my concern,” Lawrence told Jones. “That’s your job.”
That may not exactly be team-friendly from Lawrence, but his point is true. It’s the team’s job to manage their salary cap, it’s the player’s job to get paid what he’s worth. In the end, Lawrence did come down somewhat on his demands as the Cowboys upped their offer and the two sides met in the middle.
The Cowboys and Lawrence eventually became willing partners, thanks to the phone call, after some hard feelings developed. In reality, there was no way Lawrence wasn’t going to be a Cowboy. The long-term offer was too good and even if he had to play on the franchise tag, he was going to do that.
When asked is he was willing to hold out like Le’Veon Bell, Lawrence offered up a classic response for the ages.
”It ain’t going to be no Le’Veon [Bell] situation,” Lawrence said. “I’m not skipping $20 mil for nobody.”
Indeed, there are negotiation tactics, threat and innuendos, but when it comes down to it, Lawrence just wanted to get paid. He did.
Here’s what we learned from those details. Overall, five years, $105 million with $65 million guaranteed. That $65 million is stretched over the first three years of the contract and is the demarcation line for when the Cowboys could possibly have an out if they want to absorb a $10 million dead money hit.
Lawrence will get a $31.1 million payout right out of the gate; a combination of a $1.5 million base salary, the $25 million signing bonus (with a prorated $5 million against the cap in 2019), and a $4.6 million roster bonus. Lawrence’s $16.9 million base salary for 2020 is also guaranteed at signing so $48 million is guaranteed for Lawrence over the first two years.
If Lawrence has played under the franchise tag for the next two years, he would have made an estimated $50.16 million ($20.56 million + $29.6 million), but that wouldn’t be guaranteed, and there would have been no long-term security beyond those years. The $17 million of his third year is guaranteed for injury and as long as he’s on the roster by March 2020. That gets you to the $65 million guaranteed. Essentially Lawrence is getting $48 million for one year, and $65 million for three years.
In year four, Lawrence’s cap hit will be $24 million, but the Cowboys could get out of it by taking a $10 million dead money hit if for some crazy reason Lawrence is no longer performing. So Lawrence got his guarantees and long-term security, but the Cowboys did alright, too.
They got immediate cap relief for the 2019 season when they reduced Lawrence’s cap hit from $20.56 million to $11.1 million. Additionally, the cap hits in year two through five are not out of line with other top edge rushers. His non-guaranteed final two years, with $24 million and $26 million cap hits, could be very reasonable if the salary cap continues to rise as it has recently.
Lawrence became the highest-paid Cowboy ever in total value and annual average of a contract. The Cowboys were able to get cap relief this year, lock up a star play and have two non-guaranteed years on the back end of the deal. The annual average cap hits are also not out of line of top-tier pass rushers. It made sense for everybody involved.
Up next, Dak Prescott.