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Progress Report

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Progress Report: Can Tank Thrive In Quinn's System?


(Editor's Note: NFL rosters changewildly from year to year. This year will be no different, as the Cowboys seek to upgrade their roster via free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 6-10 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of will evaluate those players who are already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we'll continue the series with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.)

The Good: In a year when it felt like everything that could go wrong for Dallas did go wrong, Lawrence was a steadying force for the Cowboys, providing leadership and playmaking. He was one of the team's few playmakers who played all 16 games. He managed 58 tackles, which tied for second most in his career. He took the quarterback down 6.5 times, but he also forced four fumbles, defended two passes, and recovered a fumble. Former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan also praised Lawrence's discipline defending the run, resisting the temptation to chase sack statistics. At the end of the day, it's more than fair to claim that Lawrence was the Cowboys' best defensive player in 2020.

The Bad: "The Cowboys' best defensive player in 2020" isn't exactly a tremendous badge of honor. The team's defense was inconsistent and, at times, downright awful. After two seasons of double-digit sacks in 2017 and 2018, Lawrence has now gone two straight seasons with less than seven sacks. There's no argument to be made that Lawrence hasn't been a consistently productive player over that span of time; just about any team would take 2020's version of Tank. The problem is that he is paid at a rate that would suggest even better results. A player like Za'Darius Smith, for example, has been a much more effective pass rusher over the past two years for the Packers at a considerably cheaper contract.

Best of 2020: Lawrence's most important play of the season came about an hour before the toughest moment of the Cowboys' season. All anyone could talk about after their Week 5 game against the Giants was the horrible ankle injury that Dak Prescott suffered in the third quarter, but the Cowboys did manage to win that game despite the difficult circumstances. Lawrence deserves as much credit as anyone for the victory. Down seven points, Lawrence came around the edge and sacked Daniel Jones, stripping the ball from him in the process. Anthony Brown was at the right place at the right time, picking up the ball and running it into the end zone for a touchdown.

Contract Consideration: Lawrence is entering the third season of a 5-year contract. His base salary will be $17 million in 2021, $19 million in 2022, and $21 million in 2023. However, the Cowboys could get out of Lawrence's contract after next season, and it would cost them $19 million in dead cap.

What's Next: Tank will be on the Cowboys next year and will be expected to perform like their best defensive player. The question is whether new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can utilize Lawrence in a way that makes him perform like one of the best defensive players in the league. Quinn has typically used a hybrid 4-3 scheme, which should feature Lawrence in a three-point stance coming off the edge. Ultimately, Lawrence will need to play at a Pro Bowl caliber level in 2021 for the Cowboys to justify continuing to stay on track with his current contract.

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