• The Dallas defensive end had a standout season in 2018 playing under the franchise tag, despite a labrum issue. Now that Lawrence is again an unrestricted free agent, will he stay with the Cowboys, either on the franchise tag or via a long-term deal, or will he walk?
By Conor Orr
February 20, 2019

Throughout the next several weeks, we’ll be assessing the market on some of the best free agents set to come available on March 14. Beyond scheme fit, these decisions will be impacted by available finances, team thoughts on current draft prospects and perception of value vs. actual value. We’ll try and parse through those ideas here.

Player: Demarcus Lawrence
Age: 26 (turning 27 on April 2)
Position: Defensive end
2018 Salary: $17,143,000 (franchise tag)
2018 Statistics: 23 quarterback hits, 15 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles

Why he’s a top-tier free agent: Lawrence is the best traditional, hand-in-the-dirt pass rushing defensive end on the market this offseason. He followed up a prove-it year in 2017 with one of the better seasons at the position in ’18. Typically lined up on the right side, he can make up a lot of ground to blow up runs behind the left tackle. He’s going to make life difficult for any tight end and may from time to time require a chip from a running back or some additional inside help. He has amazing control of his 6' 4" frame and attacks flat-footed tackles almost like a penetrating guard in basketball, with a series of misdirection moves supplemented by his power. While this will be mentioned as both a positive and a negative, Lawrence has been playing two of his best seasons with serious shoulder pain. As the Dallas Morning News reported recently, Lawrence still has labrum surgery and recovery to go.

Risks involved: As we said, Lawrence played extraordinarily well considering he’s been dealing with a labrum issue for the better part of two seasons. Teams will have to wonder if post-surgery, they will a player who will be free of these issues and uninhibited at the line. Or, are they getting a player who may take a while to heal post-surgery and could miss mandatory mini-camp. I thought NFL Network outlined what seems to be the most troubling issue here: The Cowboys tagged him last year and—similar to Washington during the Kirk Cousins debacle—the team now faces the prospects of giving him a long-term deal commensurate with the second-year tag number. Remember that being tagged twice in a row comes with a built-in raise—a hefty increase from Lawrence’s $17.1-million figure a year ago. They know that it’s Dallas’ emergency parachute option to keep him in town should a long-term deal not be reached, which means that the average salary per year of any long-term option will begin with that number.

Market prospects: Lawrence is in an interesting situation. He can do more than Dallas’ defense allowed, though it will be a bit of a gamble should another team sign him. He’s the best defensive end available in a draft that is loaded with talented pass rushers, so teams will have to decide whether they’ll pay for a finished product, or bet on themselves to develop one quickly. As we’ve mentioned before, Lawrence is fortunate that there are several teams with a deep trove of cash to spend this offseason, and most of them need help on defense.

Potential destinations: Cowboys, Colts, Jets, Browns

Contract comps:

Note here: There haven’t been a ton of top-flight defensive ends signing contracts in the post-Khalil Mack era. Also, Mack is listed as a defensive end but doesn’t exactly play like a traditional DE. So, these comps are going to feel a little out of date, and will contain APY numbers that Lawrence will undoubtedly top. They will have to, considering that the APY of both Chandler Jones and JJ Watt was below Lawrence’s franchise tag number from 2018.

J.J. Watt, Texans: Six years / $100,005,425 / APY $16,667,571 / Total guarantees: $51,876,385

Chandler Jones, Cardinals: Five years / $82.5 million / APY $16.5 million / Total guarantees: $53 million

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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