(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – With no long-term deal reached before the NFL's July 16 negotiating deadline, DeMarcus Lawrence will play the 2018 season on the Cowboys' one-year franchise tag worth $17.1 million – and that has always seemed just fine with him.
"It really doesn't matter," the Pro Bowl defensive end told reporters in May. "If I do my thing, I put up my stats and I help my team win, they ain't got no choice but to sign me. That's how I feel."
Clearly, Lawrence believes he can build on his 2017 career season in which he collected 14.5 sacks. With an improving young defensive end group – and perhaps a solid contribution from the returning Randy Gregory – an encore season is possible.
Which leads to the next item in our preseason preview:
5) Can DeMarcus Lawrence repeat last season's performance?
Rob Phillips: Yes, but I don't define his performance solely based on stats. Repeating or exceeding 14.5 sacks? Statistically, maybe that won't happen with the extra attention he'll keep getting from blockers this year. I do think he'll get his share of sacks, but he also can impact the game in other ways. Lawrence didn't get enough credit last year for what he did against the run, and Rod Marinelli gave him a lot of credit for continuing to fight through double teams as a pass rusher. That creates one-on-one opportunities for guys like Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton. If other rushers are getting sacks, then you've got a defensive line creating pressure from everywhere. Then it's a win for everyone.
Lindsay Draper: Hey! An easy question, finally. DeMarcus Lawrence will do more than repeat last season's performance. He's going to beat it. Not only is he extremely talented and driven, he's so amicable. And his likeability breeds bonding. And bonding comes from leadership. I just think instead of waiting for the pieces to be in place, Lawrence just puts them in place. He makes it happen. In 2017, the 26-year-old produced 14.5 sacks, 35 tackles and four forced fumbles and was a Pro Bowler. Best part about this whole scenario for Cowboys fans, is knowing the club tagged him this season – so he's still training and grinding for big money at the conclusion of 2018. I'm standing by my gut feeling – expecting an even bigger season.
Nick Eatman: We're about to find out how close he is to another DeMarcus. What made D-Ware so good is that he kept bringing the heat play after play, game after game, and year after year. That's what Lawrence needs to prove here. He won't be sneaking up on anyone. He'll get plenty of attention, regardless if another defensive end steps up on the other side the way Anthony Spencer did for Ware. I think it'll be tough for Lawrence to do what he did last year. My prediction is that he's a better player, with better moves than before, but probably won't get to 14.5 sacks. My guess would be around 10-11 range, which isn't too bad if guys like Crawford, Charlton and Armstrong can get about 15 between them.
Mickey Spagnola: You bet, D-Law can repeat last season's performance, though, a tall order when we're talking about 14.5 sacks, the most sacks by a Cowboys player since DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 in 2011. Think about how rare Lawrence's performance was: No Cowboys player not named Ware has produced more sacks in a single season than his 14.5 since Randy White bagged 16 quarterbacks in 1978, and even at that, sacks had not become an official NFL stat until 1982. About a month ago I told Lawrence this very question was becoming the talk of the town since he only produced nine sacks his first three seasons with the Cowboys, and told him my answer was "yes." He told me, "Don't say yes, just say, 'Just watch.'" The difficulty repeating is opposing offenses will be "watching" the Cowboys' franchised player, too. So, the Cowboys sure need someone else to play well enough on the other side to draw some attention away from the guy quarterbacks will be looking for when they break the huddle. But also factor in his motivation, since he's basically on a one-year franchise tag, sort of a prove-it contract.