Spagnola: Lawrence Will Be Cowboys’ Porterhouse-Sized Free-Agent Signing

*         FRISCO, Texas –* About 1:15 or so on Thursday, one DeMarcus Lawrence came walking through the Training Table out here at The Star. That’s the chow hall for players, staff and members of the organization.

         Few seemed to notice.

         But guarantee you Lawrence’s heart had to be pounding. He was making the lucrative walk of his nearly 26 years on this earth, heading down the hall, then up two flights of stairs to the front office to . . . .

         Officially sign his $17.143 million franchise tag – guaranteed money.

         That’s just the start. Lawrence, his agent David Canter and Cowboys COO Stephen Jones will continue to work on a long-term deal. Those come complete with upfront money. The other, well you have to work for it over 17 weeks of the season. If he must, my math tells me D-Law then will make $1 million per week, uh, before taxes, of course.

         Not bad change just the same.

         Well, Jerry, go shake hands with your War Daddy!

         Finally.

         And there you go, the Cowboys land the NFL’s No. 1 ranked prospective free-agent defensive end, and in some rankings the No. 3 overall prospective free agent.

         Those guys cost. And since the Cowboys are pinching pennies to operate under the now $177 million salary cap for 2018, this will be their splash signing. And for those turning their noses up on that, who would you rather have, a Tank who turns just 26 on April 28 or a 32-year-old Michael Bennett? Who would you rather have, the guy finishing second in the NFL this past season with 14½ sacks or having traded for a 30-year-old Richard Sherman coming off dual Achilles surgery whose last year on his contract was supposed to be worth $11 million until Seattle’s shedding of him on Friday?

         In this league, you can’t have everything. Can’t put prime steak on every plate. And I’m sure everyone likes the fact the Cowboys have three Pro Bowl offensive linemen. That costs. Add in La’el Collins, and those four starting offensive linemen cost you $45.833 million against the cap – at this point in 2018. That’s 26 percent of your cap space for just four guys. Meaning, you have 49 more salaries to spread over the other 74 percent.

         Add to that a Tank-load of money, that brings the figure to $62.976 million for five guys, and there goes 35.6 percent of your cap space.

         Now the Cowboys will carry over roughly $8 million in excess from the 2017 season, most rebated from suspensions. But with the release of Benson Mayowa already, that adds another $1.1 in dead money, bringing that total to $15 million. And if the Cowboys decide to part ways with Orlando Scandrick, kick in another $3.88 million dead presidents, pushing the total to right around $19 million.

         Oh, and you really want to subscribe to the absurdity of outright cutting Dez Bryant, adding another $8 million in dead space to that total?

         As you can see, Stephen Jones and his upstairs companions have some work to do restructuring contracts just so the Cowboys can afford their draft picks if they happen to use all 10. That’s why signing Lawrence to a long-term deal, along with guard Zack Martin (1-year, $9.3 million), would create some free-agency operating capital.

         But as for now, with free agency fixing to begin at 3 p.m. Tuesday, the Cowboys have landed their big fish. Now they just have to be judicious with whatever remaining cap dollars they either have or create, meaning turning base salaries into signing bonuses and adding proration years down the road.

         And who knows, if the Cowboys can’t do a long-term deal to their liking with Lawrence, then maybe they are thinking, fine, Tank, you came through big this one year, let’s see you do it again before we invest in the vicinity of $80 million on a five-year deal. Remember, they did that for two seasons with Anthony Spencer.

         Spencer responded that first franchised year with 11 sacks, but after that you must go back to 2013 to find the last time a Cowboys defender had double digit sacks, that being Jason Hatcher with 11. In fact, Lawrence’s 14½ sacks are the most for the Cowboys since DeMarcus Ware had 19½ in 2011. And get this, since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982, those 14½ by Lawrence are the most by a Cowboys player not named Ware, who owns the club single-season record with 20 in 2008. (Ware also had a 15½ season in 2010.)

         Talk about Lawrence making himself relevant in his fourth season.

         Yeah, remember that, back in July when naming him the guy who had to come through for the Cowboys this season – Mr. Relevant, having said back then: “The Dallas Cowboys need you in the worst way.”

         Well Lawrence came through, and my point back before the start of training camp was this:

If D-Law can repeat his 2015 production, if he can improve on that (8-sack season) – either on the right side or the left side – this Cowboys defense just might become something else. If they can just get that one guy, the one the opposing quarterback is looking for every time he breaks the huddle – “Uh, OK, where is No. 90? – this defensive front just might jump last year’s 14th-ranked defense into the Top 10.

Well he did. And so did the Cowboys’ defense, moving from 14th in 2016 to No. 8 in 2017. And with Lawrence, this wasn’t all about just sacks. He led the team with 52 QB pressures, double the next guy’s number (Tyrone Crawford with 26); led the team with four forced fumbles; tied for the lead with two recovered fumbles; was third in tackles for losses with six; and his 43 total tackles ranked eighth on the team, most by a defensive lineman, while playing just 65.9 percent of the total defensive snaps.

Yeah, you’re darn tootin’ you want that guy on your team, whatever the cost might be.

So, consider the Cowboys got their big fish in free agency, and considering where he was ranked heading toward free agency, this was tuna-sized.

And betcha when he walked back through the Training Table on Thursday he didn’t need no free lunch. He was heading home to put a steak on everyone’s plate.

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