“It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard.” – Lauryn Hill
Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence have a lot more in common these days than they did a few weeks ago, both being X factors in what the Dallas Cowboys are attempting to do this offseason. That’s because while both believed they were all set to remain with the Dallas Cowboys in 2022, that may or may not still be the case. Lawrence is yet another cornerstone player being asked to bend in a way he would prefer to not, and for a reason the Cowboys believe is necessary, but actually isn’t.
Already in discussions with Cooper regarding his contract, they’ve now made the predictable move of approaching Lawrence for a dialogue about his, but it didn’t go as they hoped it would — though it went exactly as you would expect. This is especially true when you consider the tone of past negotiations between the two sides.
The team’s front office recently asked the All-Pro pass rusher to accept a pay cut for 2022, sources confirmed to CBS Sports, but Lawrence politely (or maybe not so politely) declined. Lawrence is set to earn a base salary of $19 million next season, and the Cowboys are trying to free up tens of millions to help aid their free agency plan that might involve tagging either tight end Dalton Schultz or defensive end Randy Gregory, but Lawrence also knows there’s an easy option the team could pull the trigger on that gains them millions toward the cap without amputating his direct deposits.
It’s not unusual for teams to attempt to leverage pay cuts against what they think the player in question can or can’t obtain on the open market, but that’s also predicated largely in just how sizable the pay cut would be, the player’s recently level of play and the timing of a possible release. Considering each of those things work in Lawrence’s favor, assuming it isn’t a post-June 1 move, it puts the Cowboys in a pickle, or rather an olive, because it’s not truly a problem.
They’re simply making it one.
Like Cooper, they have the option to simply restructure Lawrence’s deal, which would instantly free up $11.92 million in cap space — nearly $4 million more than if they release or trade him (pre-June 1). But if they choose to cut him loose post-June 1, having now gotten a firm “no” regarding a pay cut, they’d gain his $19 million base salary in savings (along with an $8 million dead money hit); an attractive sum that wouldn’t do much for them when free agency matters the most (March and April), because they wouldn’t see that savings hit their cap until the summer.
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Lawrence, 29, returned from a fractured foot suffered in practice following Week 1 to immediately assert himself as the best defender on the team not named Micah Parsons — logging 18 quarterback pressures, three sacks, five pass break ups, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown in his final six regular season games (and is also arguably the best run defender on the team).
He was once again the war daddy owner Jerry Jones spoke of just before they awarded him a five-year, $105 million contract extension in 2019, but Lawrence had to fight tooth-and-nail to acquire that contract. They applied the franchise tag to Lawrence in 2018 in lieu of a long-term deal and followed that up with a second tag the following offseason, infuriating Lawrence in the process, and driving him to weaponize a shoulder injury to apply the last bit of needed pressure to the Cowboys to get the deal done and still have time for him to undergo surgery and rehabilitate to be ready for the beginning of the 2019 season.
It worked, and one month after being tagged a second time, it was rescinded and the aforementioned deal was agreed to. So now, two years later, no one actually expected Lawrence to walk away from millions when the team has other options, and after putting on the display he did in December … and not having Randy Gregory tagged or under contract at the moment.
Things are becoming much more complicated for the Cowboys than they have to be, and the team is now trying to figure out if they want to part ways with two of their best players — creating more need at the respective positions in the process — to save money they could instead receive by pulling levers that wouldn’t set the talent equation back in a major way ahead of a pivotal season for head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
And, in the end, both Cooper and Lawrence would like the Cowboys to tell them who they have to be, to get some reciprocity … that doesn’t involve asking for money back.