DeMarcus Lawrence’s future with the Dallas Cowboys appears in doubt


Among the Cowboys’ highest-paid players, quarterback Dak Prescott has job security, wide receiver Amari Cooper does not and apparently defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence doesn’t as well.

While sources say team officials are close to releasing Cooper, who will have a $20 million base salary guaranteed if he’s on the roster March 20, Lawrence is in a different situation.
 
Lawrence is considered the Cowboys’ best pass rusher and is the team’s most expensive, scheduled to make $19 million in 2022, which is the second-highest salary on the team. However, multiple sources said the team has asked Lawrence to take a pay cut, which he refused.

Normally when a player rejects a pay cut he’s soon to be released.

In 2014, the Cowboys asked soon-to-be Hall of Fame outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to take a pay cut, which he declined. Ware was eventually released. Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said it was one of the most difficult decisions he ever made.

When it comes to Lawrence, Jones faces another arduous decision.

After consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in 2017 and 2018, in which Lawrence complied 25 sacks, the production hasn’t been the same.

In the last three seasons, Lawrence has 14½ sacks and 33 quarterback hits. And he played in just seven games this past season due to a broken bone in his foot.

Yet when Lawrence plays, he’s a dynamic presence. The Cowboys value Lawrence’s backside tackling skills in the run game and his constant push up field on passing downs.

He faces double-teams and takes pressure off fellow defensive end Randy Gregory. The emergence of über-talented linebacker Micah Parsons is also partially attributed to Lawrence’s presence.

He’s also become a mentor to Parsons on and off the field, which Cowboys officials embrace. But the business side of the NFL dictates a departure.

“We go through every player on our roster,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said from the scouting combine. “I know [the media] may target guys that you think we may be looking at and usually those are the guys who are making a lot of money. That comes with making money, unfortunately in this league. Is the value there? We’ll certainly work through that.”

With Gregory being an unrestricted free agent, Lawrence’s release would create a hole on a defensive unit that was impressive in the 2021 season.

If the Cowboys cut Lawrence and re-sign Gregory it raises a question.

Are the Cowboys a better team with Gregory and Dorance Armstrong (another Cowboys unrestricted free agent) at defensive end over Lawrence and Gregory? Or maybe even Lawrence and Armstrong? Would the Cowboys even draft another defensive end and pair him with Lawrence?

It seems unthinkable, but being close to $25 million over the salary cap has created these problems. Dallas will get under the cap, yet how the Cowboys accomplish that impacts the roster and particularly one of their highest-paid players.

Cutting Lawrence creates $19 million in cap savings for 2022 and produces $19 million in dead money spread out over the next two seasons.

Does it make sense to release one of your more productive players?

The Cowboys have 21 unrestricted free agents on the roster and yes, team officials would like to bring each and every player back. That’s not realistic.

Having the cap space to re-sign a majority of those players is important and can happen by restructuring contracts and releasing veterans such as Cooper and Lawrence.

“We just have to make some decisions,” Stephen Jones said. “Some tough ones. But I think the ones unfortunately if we lose a couple of good players, then hopefully we’ll continue to do a good job with our drafting process and look for value in free agency so we can draft the way we’ve historically drafted, which is not on a need basis but on a best player available basis.”

Lawrence and his family want to remain in Dallas. It seems like a natural fit for him. If the Cowboys release him thinking he can return, people close to the defensive end believe he’ll command a high salary on the open market from teams in need of a pass rusher.

When it comes to Lawrence, he’s among the highest paid at his position and now his tenure with the franchise he wants to stay with is tenuous.

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