Here’s how much the Cowboys will have to pay DeMarcus Lawrence … soon
The Dallas Cowboys spent a good chunk of last season and the draft process with the singular focus of finding a “War Daddy” at defensive end. Turns out that they had one on the roster all along in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Having drafted him back in 2014, the Cowboys knew Lawrence could be productive. But now that he’s finally healthy he’s putting on an extraordinary show. It should also come as no surprise that he’s doing so in a contract year, which means the Cowboys have to figure out what they think he’s worth, what he thinks he’s worth and whether or not the discrepancy can be dealt with amicably.
Lawrence currently leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, but his impact reaches far beyond taking down the quarterback.
He supplies an enormous amount of pressure. Enough so that you can say without hyperbole that he’s taken over various stages of games, most notably in a 28-17 win on Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.
Pro Football Focus currently ranks him as the No. 8 edge defender in the NFL, and there’s nothing in the numbers to indicate that he’ll slow down anytime soon barring injury. After being laughed out of the room for insisting he could rack up 32 sacks (the NFL record is 22.5), he’s on pace for 27.
Even if we assume a more reasonable sack total — say 15 — it’ll be interesting to see exactly what sort of a contract that earns Lawrence on the open market.
To gauge what sort of a price tag he might carry, you have to look at similarly productive players in the same 4-3 system. The only problem is, there really aren’t any.
New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon was more consistently productive before signing his enormous deal before the 2016 season, and he has managed to stay considerably healthier than Lawrence, as well. But he’s never had anywhere close to as explosive of a season as Lawrence is having now. Vernon makes $17 million annually.
His Giants teammate Jason Pierre-Paul has had a similarly up-and-down career due to injury but does have 16.5-sack and 12.5-sack seasons under his belt. He’s being paid $15.5 million per season. So even if you’re factoring in Lawrence’s propensity for injury or trouble (he’s been suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy), that’s an interesting benchmark.
Luckily for the Cowboys, Lawrence has made it clear time and time again that his intention is to stay with the Cowboys. That certainly threatens his free-agent leverage and could lead to him taking a discount to stay.
However, history has shown that the Cowboys are better off making an offer commensurate with his value than trying to lowball him to take advantage of his generosity. So when you look at the likes of Everson Griffen and Pierre-Paul making $14.5 million and $15.5 million, respectively, it feels like anything less than $15 million annually would be an insult.
And Lawrence won’t turn 26 until next offseason, so he’ll be looking for a deal that pays out over the life of his remaining prime, likely meaning a 4-6 year deal.
To offset the fact they likely can’t offer him a deal that resets the market set by Vernon’s contract in 2016, the Cowboys will also probably have to guarantee somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 percent of the total value of his contract.
So, if we’re talking about a five-year deal worth $75 million, you’d be looking at $45 million in total guarantees and $15-20 million up front as a signing bonus. That’ll be a tall order for the perpetually cap-strapped Cowboys, but it’ll be one they want to fulfill if they want to hang on to their “War Daddy.”