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Why a new deal between Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence is a no-brainer

If he's franchise tagged again, DeMarcus Lawrence might find it difficult to attend offseason programs or even training camp. AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File

FRISCO, Texas – Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has said he's ready for a long-term deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

"If they don't want this energy and intensity and this focus every day to get better, then make your move," Lawrence told reporters during the Pro Bowl weekend in Orlando, Florida. "The ball is in their hands. I feel like I've prepared for this moment and showed them I'm here for the long haul."

Executive vice president Stephen Jones said Lawrence is the Cowboys' priority.

"Certainly DeMarcus has done his part to make us feel more comfortable. He put together now two back-to-back double-digit sack seasons," Jones told reporters during Senior Bowl festivities in Mobile, Alabama. "Of course he's a leader by example on the field in terms of how he plays the game.

"Nothing's changed in terms of my opinion, except for the better in terms of what type of player DeMarcus Lawrence is for our football team. Certainly a huge priority for us to get him signed. We want to sign him up long term. I think he's going to play this season at 27 and still a young player and still in front of him in terms of him improving and getting better."

It would seem as if getting a contract done would be relatively easy.

A year ago at this time, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion the Cowboys would use the franchise tag on Lawrence. There were brief talks between the Cowboys and Lawrence's agent, David Canter, but there was a gulf between the two sides that could not be overcome, so Lawrence made $17.1 million in 2018.

If the Cowboys use the tag on Lawrence again, then it would cost $20.5 million and it probably would mean Lawrence would skip the offseason program, training camp and potentially not show up until the regular season begins. Read up on how the Le'Veon Bell situation worked in Pittsburgh for guidance.

So what would get a long-term deal done before the Cowboys have to use the franchise tag on Lawrence for a second straight year?

After his trade from the Oakland Raiders to the Chicago Bears, Khalil Mack signed a six-year, $141 million deal that included $60 million guaranteed at signing and a $34 million signing bonus. The deal averages $23.5 million a year.

After Mack, the next highest average per year as an edge rusher, either a 4-3 defensive end like Lawrence or a 3-4 outside linebacker, is Von Miller of the Denver Broncos at $19.08 million on a deal signed in 2016.

Canter, negotiated the five-year, $85 million deal Olivier Vernon got from the New York Giants as a free agent in 2016 that included a $20 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed at signing. He had one double-digit sack season in his career before signing with the Giants and never had more than 7.5 sacks in any other season with the Miami Dolphins.

There are factors to consider with Lawrence:

Age

Lawrence turns 27 in April. He is entering the prime of his career. Mack was 27 when he signed his big deal with the Bears. Miller was 27 when he signed his extension with the Broncos. DeMarcus Ware was 27 when he signed his six-year, $78 million deal with the Cowboys in 2009. The Cowboys would be paying big money for what should be the prime of his career.

Injury history

Lawrence had two back surgeries -- one before the 2016 season and one after. He has not missed a game since. They do give him time off in the offseason, training camp and regular season, which is smart. And it's something they do with a lot of players. He said at the Pro Bowl he would have shoulder surgery but depending on the timing of the operation, a source said he would be back in time for training camp at the latest.

Suspension

Lawrence was suspended the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the substance-abuse policy, but he is no longer in the drug program. In 2013, Miller was suspended six games for violating the substance-abuse policy and has become one of the NFL's most marketed defensive players. This should not be an issue in the Lawrence negotiations.

Statistics

Lawrence has posted back-to-back double-digit sack seasons -- 14.5 in 2017 and 10.5 in 2018 -- and he led the Cowboys in sacks in 2015 with eight. The last Cowboys player to have 10 or more sacks in consecutive seasons was Ware in 2011-12.

Jerry Jones searched for his "war daddy," since Ware was released after the 2013 season and saw Lawrence, their second-round pick in 2014, become that player.

Mack has put up four straight seasons with at least 10.5 sacks, including 12.5 in his first season with the Bears. Miller has had double-digit sacks every year since 2014, including 18.5 in 2018.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Lawrence's complete game separates him from other defenders. He had a career-high 12 tackles for a loss in 2018 and led the Cowboys with 39 quarterback hurries. In 2017, he had six tackles for a loss and 52 pressures.

The roster

Picture the Cowboys pass rush without Lawrence. Randy Gregory had a breakthrough season, but he is one failed test away from a long suspension if not banishment. Taco Charlton had one sack in 2018 and fell out of favor with the coaches for a spell. The Cowboys don't have a first-round pick in 2019 because of the Amari Cooper trade and adding a high-priced free agent is always tricky, which is why the Cowboys want to keep their own players. They know them best.

The contract

Lawrence's deal would look something like this: Five years, $100 million, $60 million guaranteed, $30 million signing bonus.

Using Mack's average per year ($23.5 million) and the cost of a second franchise tag ($20.5 million), the average per year on a deal for Lawrence would have to be $20 million. Undoubtedly, the Cowboys' first offer to Lawrence will be for less and Lawrence's first proposal will be more. This is the middle ground.

In this proposed deal, Lawrence is guaranteed 60 percent of the contract. Mack is guaranteed 58 percent of his deal. Chandler Jones' contract is 64 percent guaranteed. Melvin Ingram's contract is 65 percent guaranteed.

There will be details to consider with the collective bargaining agreement expiring after the 2020 season, but the Cowboys generally do "clean" deals without roster bonuses or option bonuses.

In addition to the $30 million signing bonus and base salaries in 2019-2021 of $5 million, $10 million and $15 million, Lawrence would receive the $60 million in guarantees in the first three seasons. If things don't pan out, the Cowboys could get out of the deal after the third year and save $11 million in cap space.

Stephen Jones likes to say if two sides want to get a deal done, it can go quickly.

There is no reason for either side to make this so difficult that they test each other's patience.