As soon as the Cowboys 2017 season ended, the team had a single priority, one thing it had to do before the 2018 season kicked off. Somehow, it had to secure the services of DeMarcus Lawrence, 2017's breakthrough defensive star and the Cowboys' first elite pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware left the team for the Broncos in 2013. Monday afternoon, the team accomplished its goal, placing its franchise tag on Lawrence, ensuring that the Boise State product will remain in Dallas and that he'll get paid like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2017.
Under the NFL's current collective bargaining agreement, teams are allowed to tag one player per season, if they wish to do so. Players receiving the franchise tag are paid the average salary of the five highest paid players at their position or 120 percent of their previous year's salary, which deters teams from giving one player the tag in consecutive years. For Lawrence, being a franchise player means he'll make $17 million from the Cowboys in 2018, unless he and the team work out a long-term contract before July 15.
Lawrence is just 26. He had 14.5 sacks in 2017, tied for second best in the league. A back injury limited Lawrence to three starts and just one sack in 2016, otherwise he'd be a prime candidate for a lucrative multi-year exception. By burning their franchise tag on Lawrence, the Cowboys seem eager to see Lawrence have another All Pro-type season before giving him a significant guarantee.
"There are advantages that the franchise tag gives you," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters Saturday at the NFL's pre-draft scouting combine. "It creates some leverage to get a long-term deal done. You certainly have some ambiguity as a player when you have a one-year deal. You have it as a club, too. But you can read some tea leaves during that year. I'm satisfied at where the numbers are, both Lawrence and the Cowboys are getting value here. I see it both ways. But it's an acceptable value for the Cowboys as well to be able to do a one-year deal."
Often, players are angry to receive the franchise tag, because it keeps them from getting on the open market and signing with the team of their choice. LeVeon Bell, Pittsburgh's star running back, skipped the preseason last year after getting tagged and has threatened to do so again this year, if the Steelers use the tag on him for a second time, as they anticipated to do.
Lawrence seemed happy with his situation on Monday, however. In a series of tweets, he exulted over his new salary and took some good-natured trash talk from teammate Tyrone Crawford.
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The Cowboys have used the franchise tag six times on five players since it was implemented as part of the free agency process in 1993. Most recently, the team placed the tag on Dez Bryant following the 2015 season, before eventually agreeing to five-year, $70 million contract with the wide receiver.
With Lawrence securely in the fold, the Cowboys will turn their eyes toward free agency, which begins this month, April's NFL Draft and Dez Bryant's looming contract situation.