Regardless of performance, 2024 is likely DeMarcus Lawrence’s last season with Cowboys

DeMarcus Lawrence is preparing for his 11th season with the Cowboys as one of the team’s best defensive linemen and a locker room leader. However, between age and an expiring contract, this year may very well be Lawrence’s last in Dallas. Even if he continues to play at a high level, he may not be able to survive the team’s salary cap concerns and seeming move toward a roster reboot.

With Tyron Smith’s departure to the New York Jets, Lawrence and Zack Martin have become the longest-tenured roster members. Both were added in the 2014 NFL Draft, and while Martin was an immediate elite player it took Lawrence some time to develop. Once he finally got through an early rash of injuries, Lawrence broke out with 14.5 sacks in 2017 for his first appearances on the Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters.

While he only had a brief stint among the league’s top pass rushers, Lawrence settled into a role as a top run defender who makes occasional splash plays. Even without double-digit sack numbers, Lawrence was named to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons in recognition of his well-rounded game and consistency. He returns in 2024 as one of the few defensive line fixtures after several departures: Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, Johnathan Hankins, and Neville Gallimore all taking jobs elsewhere this offseason.

Unfortunately, like Tyron Smith this year, Lawrence will soon find himself in a tough spot with an expiring contract. He turns 33 next April, which is how old Smith is now, and the Cowboys have grown increasingly intolerant of paying even their most faithful franchise players once they’ve passed their prime. Even after being named a second-team All-Pro in 2023, Smith had to turn to free agency to find the money that he felt he deserved. That would seem to set the tone for Lawrence’s future as well.

It also doesn’t help Lawrence’s chance of returning that the Cowboys may already have a replacement plan. They just used a second-round pick on Western Michigan’s Marshawn Kneeland, who has the size, power, and athleticism to eventually cover all of Lawrence’s current roles. Throw in Sam Williams as a hopeful rotation piece for at least the next two seasons and Dallas may not feel the need to retain Lawrence even on a short-term extension.

Even if he’s playing for a new team in 2025, Lawrence will still be on the Cowboys’ books for one more year. Due to prior restructuring on his existing contract, a deferred cap hit of $7.45 million in the form of a void year will be dead money against Dallas’ 2025 cap. Barring a contract extension that allows the Cowboys to massage some of that into future seasons, it will be an unfortunate chunk allocated to a former player.

One factor helping Lawrence’s staying power over Smith, though, is reliability to stay on the field. Even with last year’s accolades, Smith still missed four games and that’s after missing 13, five, and 14 in each of the three seasons before. Meanwhile, Lawrence hasn’t missed a game since a foot injury cost him nine games in 2021. Before that, from 2017-2020, Lawrence didn’t miss a single contest.

Of course, there’s always the potential that DeMarcus Lawrence will be willing to take a tremendous pay cut to stay with the Cowboys beyond 2024. But if he’s still the same Tank that we’ve seen the last two years, it’s hard to imagine his potential market value and Dallas’ miserly ways will find common ground going forward. With Tyron Smith’s recent experience providing precedent, this season is likely a farewell tour for Lawrence as a Cowboy.


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