The Dallas Cowboys went into the offseason completely intent on not using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
In a last-ditch effort to keep one of the league’s most promising pass rushers under contract, the Cowboys are expected to use the franchise tag on the All-Pro defensive end by March 6. The move is expected to cost the team $17.5 million for a one-year deal.
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) February 19, 2018
Tying up that much money in a player with only one spectacular season is a risky venture for a team that could use help in other areas. Lawrence was a one-man wrecking crew on defense last season, finishing with 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His monstrous potential has never been questioned in his first four years in the league. His health, on the other hand, has been a completely different matter.
Lingering back problems have led to multiple offseason surgeries in back-to-back years. While Lawrence managed to play in all 16 games of the 2017 season, his health should obviously be a concern for the Cowboys when negotiating a long-term extension.
Don’t expect any “home team” discounts, either. Lawrence’s agent, David Canter, will probably try to break the bank on the negotiating table the same way he was able to do with Olivier Vernon and the New York Giants. The former All-Pro defensive end signed a five-year, $85 million contract with $52.5 million in guaranteed money coming off a 7.5-sack season.
One can only imagine what Canter is seeking for Lawrence, who had double the defensive production.
In some ways, the franchise tag might also be a blessing in disguise for the Cowboys. Unless they come to a long-term agreement with Lawrence before July 16, they’ll have another season to see if he can replicate the production he had from last season. Granted, that sort of sneak peek will be an expensive one, but it won’t be nearly as expensive as committing to a long-term deal loaded with guaranteed money.
The Cowboys might even be able to haggle Canter down to a bargain if Lawrence struggles or gets injured in 2018. Consider the franchise tag more of a placeholder to continue negotiating with a potential superstar talent and avoid letting him walk out the door for nothing. That would have been an even bigger disaster than the $17.5 million prove-it price tag.
At the very least, the Cowboys have been given another year to figure it out.