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DeMarcus Lawrence declining the pay cut is the right move for himself

While it is not particularly helpful for the Cowboys, fans should not blame Lawrence for saying no.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The excitement in Dallas never seems to end. In the seemingly-daily edition of "what drama are the Cowboys dealing with now," The Dallas Morning News reported that DeMarcus Lawrence declined to take a pay-cut, leaving his future with the team in doubt.

This dramatically drops the chances of Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence both returning in 2022. But from Lawrence's viewpoint, this is the right move. For several reasons, declining to take a pay cut is reasonable for the 29-year-old defensive end.

DeMarcus Lawrence made the right move for himself

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Some initial reactions to the fact that DeMarcus Lawrence refused to take a pay cut might be negative and critical of the defensive end. Why wouldn't he want to help the team he plays for?

But let's put ourselves in Lawrence's mind instead of focusing on the team itself.

Lawrence just finished his eighth year with the Cowboys. While it wasn't his best year due to injuries, he was still among the best defenders the Dallas Cowboys had when healthy. He finished with 30 quarterback pressures, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and 17 tackles for a loss on run defense in eight games.

This production resulted in the best PFF run-defense grade, the sixteenth best pass-rush grade, and the third-best overall defensive grade, among edge defenders.

But in just one month, DeMarcus Lawrence will be 30 years old, and at some point, his production will decline. He is still among the better edge defenders in the NFL, but he is only two years younger than J.J. Watt. And Watt is seemingly facing the twilight of his career.

Lawrence is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Meaning that there are still two more years on his deal before he hits the open market again. And at 32-years-old in 2024, there are likely not going to be a lot of teams willing to sign Lawrence to a massive deal.

Meaning that if you are keeping track, Lawrence has two more years of good money he will receive from Dallas, and after that, there is no guarantee.

We discussed this entire idea and more on the latest episode of 1st and 10 on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

But, if Lawrence were to be cut right now, he would be one of the best edge defenders on the open market, and he played in 88% of all games from 2017 to 2021. He is still a difference-making player who has stayed remarkably healthy up to last season. If he is cut, another team will be willing to sign him to another solid contract, potentially for three or more years.

So, from Lawrence's perspective, if he agrees to take a pay cut, it would guarantee he finishes his contract out with Dallas through 2024, and after that, he might never see top-end money again. Or, he can decline to take a pay-cut, and he either makes his full salary with the Cowboys in the next two years, or he gets cut, thus still making $17 million from Dallas plus potentially signing another long-term, favorable deal.

But Lawrence still seems like a team-first player. So let's assume that, despite declining the pay cut being the best option financially, he decides to base his decision on the "betterment of the team."

Well, Lawrence has likely been paying attention to the news surrounding the Cowboys. He probably heard Stephen Jones alluding that they were considering cutting him in the early offseason and then watched the front office do nothing to squash the rumors that Dallas might move on from the eight-year Cowboy.

Let’s assume Lawrence is the bigger man, let's say the recent drama doesn't influence his decision. Instead, he decides to base it on the Cowboys' spending history.

Lawrence likely realizes that, even if he takes a pay cut, Dallas will use that money inefficiently instead of building a team that will help him win. And Lawrence wants to win. Thus, even if he is the bigger man and agrees to the pay cut, he probably realizes that the Cowboys will not use that money to build up the roster because there is no evidence that Dallas knows how to sign reasonable contracts in free agency.

Look at the two options from Lawrence's perspective:

  • Take a Pay Cut: Ensures you are 32 by the time you have the opportunity to sign another contract, at which point teams will be hesitant to commit over the long term. Meaning these are the final two years of any sizable contract. But you give your team extra money to spend in free agency: the team that has talked about cutting you since the offseason started, and the team that doesn't know how to spend money.
  • Decline the Pay Cut: If you decline, then you still have the opportunity to make the near $60 million playing in Dallas the next two seasons. But the more likely outcome is you are cut and can sign with another team. Despite injuries, you were one of the better edge rushers last year, which means that you can probably sign another long-term, sizable deal and still earn the guaranteed money from Dallas.

From a purely player-oriented perspective, this was the right move for Lawrence. He will either make his entire contract from the Cowboys, or he gets the opportunity to sign another large deal while he is still in his prime.

It is easy to hyper-focus on the team aspect of personnel decisions. But at the same time, it is helpful to take a step back and look at the game from the players' perspective. If we do so in this case, there is no evidence that Lawrence should accept the pay cut.

So, good for you DeMarcus Lawrence. You made the right move.