PHOENIX – Stephen Jones has the perfect word for where things stand with DeMarcus Lawrence, and it shouldn't be a surprising one.
"Right now, the best way to describe it is we're at an impasse," he said. "We're apart. But certainly optimistic."
That's the theme at the NFL's annual meetings in Arizona. For the second time in as many days, as Cowboys official insisted the contract negotiations with their star pass rusher aren't troubling.
This time, it was Jones – the chief operating officer, who so frequently has been the point man in the Cowboys' contract negotiations. And in this particular conversation, he was prepared to offer a bit more detail about why these particular contract talks have stalled to this point.
"We're motivated to do it right now. We were motivated to do it before we put the tag on him," Jones said. "At the same time, we have some conviction of the range he should be in in terms of his compensation, and I'm sure they have some conviction of what they're asking for. I'm not being critical, but therein lies the root of the negotiations."
That part is a tale as old as time. Lawrence tallied 14.5 sacks in 2017, the final year of his rookie contract, and the Cowboys responded with the franchise tag. The Boise State standout answered that with a 62-tackle, 10.5-sack season in 2018, and here we are. Lawrence has been tagged again, netting him a one-year, $20 million contract – which he doesn't want to sign for lack of a long-term guarantee.
How does a $20 million tag set the basis for a multi-year contract, though? That seems to be the dilemma. And Jones wasn't shy about admitting it: contracts handed out to other NFL edge rushers have had a drastic impact on the situation.
Khalil Mack is the big name to know. Just last year, the Chicago Bears signed the All-Pro pass rusher to a six-year extension that paid him $141 million – an average of $23.5 million per season – to go along with $90 million in total guarantees
That's a heck of a step up from the contract Von Miller signed in 2016, which pays him $19 million per year and $70 million in guarantees. It's even better than the deal Trey Flowers signed just two weeks ago, paying out $18 million per year and $56 million in guarantees.
To put it simply: the Cowboys are now tasked with slotting into that landscape, and it's not proving easy.
"You have the top two guys at the top, and I'm sure that's why we're struggling here a little bit," Jones said. "There's a delta between the top two guys and where the rest of the edge rushers and pressure players have been paid up to this point."
How that conversation proceeds from here is anyone's guess. Jones didn't want to speculate about Lawrence's oft-discussed shoulder surgery, which he has reportedly not undergone as of yet. But he did maintain his optimism about the situation, pointing out that the Cowboys have historically had success retaining players they wanted to keep.
"We're going to continue to try to move the ball forward and see if there is some common ground we can find," he said. "I'm certainly not going to draw any lines in the sand, and we haven't."
While that plays out, Jones didn't shy away from his needs at defense end. Lawrence intends to stay away from the offseason program until his contract gets sorted out, and Randy Gregory's future is uncertain after an NFL suspension.
With free agency ongoing and the NFL draft just a month away, the Cowboys' need for edge rushers is crystal clear.
"I think we've got work to do there. As I said, we're not finished yet," Jones said. "We have some things in the mix we're working on that may address that situation. We'll just see how those proceed."