The Dallas Cowboys have played the long game with Demarcus Lawrence. After two Pro Bowl seasons, it’s time to pay up.
The franchise tag is a useful tool in the NFL. It can also be a dangerous one.
The Dallas Cowboys applied the tag last year to keep Demarcus Lawrence from hitting the open market following a 14.5-sack campaign. After another Pro Bowl berth and double-digit sacks in 2018, Lawrence is primed for a huge contract.
If the Cowboys don’t pay Lawrence now, it’s mismanagement.
Dallas is within its rights to tag Lawrence at a value of approximately $20.571 million, but it’s bad business on two fronts. For starters, it would drop the Cowboys projected cap space form $46 million to $25 million, severely hindering other avenues to improve in free agency. Additionally, it would strain the relationship between the team and its best defensive player. Lawrence has earned his payday, persevering through a pair of back surgeries to become a dominant force.
If Dallas won’t take care of him, it sends a message to the locker room that performance doesn’t equal pay.
Lawrence, 26, is believed the top free agent available, per multiple sources within the league. If he were to hit the open market, the former Boise State star would receive offers in excess of $100 million in overall value and $70 million in guarantees from multiple franchises. If Dallas has intentions of locking Lawrence up, the smart play would be to negotiate throughout the combine in Indianapolis prior to the March 5 deadline for tagging players.
If the Cowboys do slap the tag on Lawrence, the expectation is the two sides would work toward a lucrative, long-term deal before the July 15 deadline. If that date comes and goes with Lawrence still on the tag, a game of hardball would ensue. In short, the Cowboys wouldn’t enjoy the likely holdout.
Under that scenario, there’s little guarantee it results in a deal. Last year, five players — including Lawrence — were given the non-exclusive franchise tag. Only Jarvis Landry and Kyle Fuller came to a deal with their respective clubs, while Ezekiel Ansah and Lamarcus Joyner are expected to hit free agency in a month’s time.
For now, silence between team and player is commonplace. The league year doesn’t begin until March 13. In the NFL, that’s an eternity. Deadlines move needles, and until the football world descends upon Indianapolis come Feb. 26, talk will be sparse.