FRISCO, Texas – This one is lost in the shuffle.
And maybe because he's one of their own as we are moving into the fourth week of free agency. He's not some big name some other team didn't want to re-sign or decided to just let go as is mostly the case in unrestricted free agency.
DeMarcus Lawrence, that's his name. Defensive end, entering his ninth season with the Cowboys. A 2014 second-round pick in the draft, having now started 85 of the 103 games he's played for the Cowboys.
First, the Cowboys wanted to keep him, unlike wide receiver Amari Cooper. Then they figured out a way to keep D-Law.
"Lawrence was a priority for us," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said from last week's NFL meetings. "He's a big-time, stellar core of our defense."
This is the one the Cowboys splurged on, reworking his contract to create $13 million of cap space. And let's not get caught up with this notion Lawrence took a huge pay cut. What the Cowboys figured out was how to reduce his 2022 original cap hit of $27 million down to $14 million.
But that did not come cheap. First, the Cowboys ended up paying him a $12 million signing bonus. Up front money in his pocket already. Didn't have to work for weekly payments over 18 weeks of the season as was structured in his original 2022 base salary of $19 million. Plus, with Lawrence out of guaranteed money on his previous contract, the Cowboys guaranteed him another $18 million in his next two base salaries, $3 million this year and $15 million next year.
That's $30 million he is guaranteed to earn, $30 million more than existed on his previous contract. So now, the Cowboys, who most think didn't do anything big so far in free agency, are able to retain one of their best defensive players by shelling out $15 million to this guy who turns 30 the day this year's draft begins (April 28).
Otherwise, had they not taken this _shot_, the Cowboys could have been without both their starting defensive ends, along with nine sacks and 46 QB pressures he combined with the departed Randy Gregory to post.
Jerry would go on to say, and you know him, the glass is always half full, "I look at more of what we have than what we lost."
Now wouldn't that have been something had they lost Lawrence and Gregory.
· Not-So Crazy Eights: The Cowboys also spent $26.3 million in cap space on necessities, the most exorbitant (to this point) being the Dalton Schultz franchise tag guaranteeing the now starting tight end $10.931 million. And COO Stephen Jones remained fairly coy when asked about continuing to negotiate a long-term deal with Schultz to reduce his 2022 cap hit, basically saying let's see what happens going forward. In case you are wondering, here are those other seven "necessity" cap hits for this year: Leighton Vander Esch ($2M), Dorance Armstrong ($3.38M), a veteran exception for James Washington ($1.047M), Jayron Kearse ($3.72M), Dante Fowler Jr. ($2.91M), Bryan Anger ($2.2M) and a veteran exception for Carlos Watkins ($1.047M). And if you are scoring at home, that totals right at $27 million for at least seven starters. And none of those contracts were for more than two years, with the exception of three for Anger, though the Cowboys could get out of that potential $9 million deal after one year for just $1.6 million in dead money. All cap-wise to me.
- Wagner Wages: Big name, Bobby Wagner, and while his cap hit was too much for Seattle to stomach, the Rams found a way, guaranteeing the Pro Bowl linebacker $20 million, with $10 million of that in his pocket come Friday. How'd the Rams do it? Well, essentially, it's a three-year, $28.5 million deal ($9.5M a year) and they can get out of the last two years of the contract (Wagner turns 32 at the end of June) for just $2 million of dead money. He also has $3 million in potential incentives each year.
- Just Visiting: The Cowboys have begun their pre-draft visiting process, with the Dallas Days this past Friday and the national 30-allowed visits starting this week. By a rough count, they have at least 21 visits either already planned or completed, with three of those wide receivers, three tight ends, three defensive tackles and four offensive linemen. But note, not all of these visits will be with potential first-round picks.
- Kicking Tires: The Cowboys had eyes wide open Wednesday at the LSU Pro Day workouts. And why not? The Tigers had 16 guys working out for all 32 teams present. Obviously, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. stole the show with his 4.37-second 40-yard dash. Not bad for a guy coming back from a Lisfranc injury that cost him all but three games in 2021, that along with an NFL business decision to stay healthy. The Cowboys should have been interested in kicker Cade York, a potential third-day draft choice, and though he did not participate in any drills, the Cowboys should know all they need to know about him, having played his high school ball in nearby Prosper, Texas.
- Cap Savvy: Have you noticed what teams are doing, putting a premium on draft picks, no matter how financially or future draft-choices costly. Take the previously cap-strapped Saints' trade with Philadelphia. Knowing the cheapest way to add first-year players is through the draft, the Saints traded away their 18th pick in 2022, along with their third and seventh rounders, a first in 2023 and a second in 2024 for two of the Eagles' 2022 first-round picks (16 and 19) and a 2023 sixth. If both picks can start, much cheaper than signing veteran free agents.
- Short Shots: While he might have played 50 percent of the defensive snaps, the Cowboys evidently had no interest in re-signing Keanu Neal, the safety turned nickel linebacker hooking up with Tampa Bay. The Cowboys already had figured that spot would be handled by Kearse and last year's fourth-round pick Jabril Cox, returning from a torn ACL … Can already hear the calliope playing as the Fan Controlled Football circus is coming to a place near you, the lead barker becoming 48-year-old Terrell Owns returning to play in the sure-to-fail league for the first time since playing 14 games for Cincinnati in 2010 … Wonder how much free agent Tyrann Mathieu wants to play, having visited with his hometown Saints, saying he dropped by since he happened to be back home? … Cowboys are stocked at the defensive tackle position, what with Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, Watkins, Trysten Hill and Quinton Bohanna, with the ability to move Lawrence, Tarell Basham and even Armstrong inside in pass-rush situations. But after watching that highlight tape of Oklahoma Perrion Winfrey, my gosh, wouldn't be mad at 'em for grabbing that 6-4, 290-pound ball of dynamite.
Let's finish where we started, with DeMarcus Lawrence, who most seem to forget when talking about his stats from the 2021 campaign that he only played in the opener and then the final six of the regular season, plus the playoff game after suffering that fractured fifth metatarsal in practice in the second week of the season. D-Law only played 23.6 percent of the defensive snaps, so let's not minimize his three sacks and 16 pressures.
He only played 271 snaps last year, after 668 in each of the previous two seasons battling through injuries. That means in 2021 he recorded a sack every 45 snaps. Factor that out over the previous two seasons of snaps and he was on pace for a 15-sack season. And now he's hoping for a full season under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
"I only had an opportunity to play, what, seven, eight games with him," Lawrence reminded, "so I didn't get even a full season with DQ yet. Being able to go in the offseason, being able to have his guidance, training with him, training with the guys on the team, I feel like it will make us more complex. Being able to understand his playbook, with his style of play, and also, you know, kick it up a notch from last year.
"I feel like we built a good foundation last year and it's time to build on top of that."
Let the building begin.