Demarcus Lawrence

Tag Fallout: Bell, Lawrence, Johnson

Monday’s deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions came and went without a deal. For the Steelers, this could well mean the beginning of an era’s end. For the Cowboys, Lions and Rams, prices for their tagged performers went up for future purposes. Here’s the latest fallout from the tag deadline.

  • Despite reports the Cowboys and DeMarcus Lawrence were going to engage in discussions about an extension prior to Monday, Todd Archer of ESPN.com reports no substantive talks had occurred in months. The parties last participated in a real debate about Lawrence’s value in March, per Archer. That doesn’t make these talks much different from the Lions and Ziggy Ansah, with Bob Quinn effectively admitting they were planning to use the tag to evaluate their injury-prone defensive end this season. Lawrence has struggled with multiple maladies as well, and it seems the Cowboys are willing to have a $17.1MM cap hit on the books to see if he can deliver another strong season.
  • Lawrence did not express concern about playing this season for that amount, but he does not want to play on what’s essentially a rental agreement in 2019. The defensive end, though, would make $20.5MM if the Cowboys tagged him again. And Archer expects that’s exactly what will end up happening (Twitter link). A $20.5MM hit may be not be as damaging as it once was, but it will likely represent a slightly greater percentage of Dallas’ 2019 cap than Lawrence’s 2018 hit does for this year’s $177MM ceiling. If the cap goes up by its usual $10MM or close approximation, a $20.5MM hit would take up nearly 11 percent of the Cowboys’ ’19 cap. This season, the 26-year-old defender will occupy 9.66 percent of the Cowboys’ cap.
  • Le’Veon Bell also appears to concede 2018 will be his Steelers finale. In a tweet, the sixth-year running back apologizes to fans for he and the Steelers’ inability to finalize a deal that satisfied both parties. “My desire always has been to retire a Steeler,” Bell said. “Both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at times…to the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let youu (sic) down but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date.” The Steelers are believed to have offered Bell a five-year deal worth $70MM, but it’s unknown what the guarantees came out to in that proposal.
  • Bell is betting that a better offer will be there in March, but Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network points out (video link) the Steelers no longer have a reason to preserve their starting back for the future. This is a unique wrinkle to the two-tag process that didn’t affect Kirk Cousins or Trumaine Johnson. The team already uses Bell like an old-school workhorse, albeit with a modern spin thanks to Bell’s abilities through the air, and Kinkhabwala expects the 26-year-old’s workload to meet and possibly eclipse his 406-touch 2017 regular season. That would put him well over 1,500 carries, which would be unique for a free agent running back seeking a major contract.
  • One player who had a vested outside interest in Bell reaching an agreement with the Steelers is now on his own. But Joel Corry of CBS Sports tweets David Johnson‘s agent should now use the Steelers’ leaked five-year, $70MM offer as the new running back ceiling rather than Devonta Freeman‘s five-year, $41.25MM contract when negotiating with the Cardinals. Considering how big of a gap there is between these numbers (nearly $6MM AAV) and the lack of known guarantees, that might be a tough sell for the Cardinals. Corry adds that a Johnson 2019 tag would come out to approximately $11.3MM. That figure is now more relevant now that Bell is set to play on his $14.5MM tag rather than a market-resetting long-term deal.

DeMarcus Lawrence Against Playing On Tag After This Season

Four players are set to play on a franchise tender this season. DeMarcus Lawrence‘s 14.5-sack showing in 2017 prompted the Cowboys to place a $17.1MM tag on him this year, and he did not object to that arrangement.

However, he does not want this situation to repeat itself. Lawrence’s goal is to secure a long-term extension with the Cowboys after this season, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, adding that the fifth-year defensive end will not play on the tag in 2019.

While a 2019 tag would exceed $20MM, a historic one-season windfall for a non-quarterback, Lawrence wants a commitment after this 2018 rental setup concludes. The Cowboys are now intent to see if Lawrence’s breakout was a fluke. Those 14.5 sacks eclipsed his previous three-season total by 5.5, and 10 of those sacks came in the season’s first seven weeks.

A report earlier this month indicated the Cowboys were OK with Lawrence playing this year on the tag. Lawrence said he would be. The $17MM-plus cap hit doesn’t damage Dallas’ ledger like it would have in previous years. And next season, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant‘s dead-money figures are off the Cowboys’ books. They are projected to possess more than $50MM in cap space, and if Lawrence can deliver another strong season, the franchise would be in better position to hammer out a long-term agreement.

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No Deals For Bell, Lawrence, Ansah, Or Joyner

None of this year’s franchise tagged players agreed to extensions with their respective teams before Monday’s deadline. That means Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, and Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner will all play on their tags in 2018. 

Over the weekend, we heard that deals were unlikely for any of the four players. However, we’ve been surprised in the past. You may recall the 2016 franchise tag extension deadline in which Muhammad Wilkerson and the Jets agreed to a buzzer-beating deal after weeks of reports indicating that it would not happen (the Jets certainly wish it hadn’t happened now).

There was no surprise this year, so the four franchise tagged players are all entering contract seasons at the following rates:

  • Ezekiel Ansah – $17.1MM
  • DeMarcus Lawrence – $17.1MM
  • Le’Veon Bell – $14.5MM
  • Lamarcus Joyner – ~$12MM

This marks the first ever franchise tag for Ansah, Lawrence, and Joyner. For Bell, this is the second go ’round and it’s incredibly unlikely that the Steelers will consider a third tag, no matter how good he is in 2018.

Per league rules, extension talks cannot resume between the team and the tagged player until after the 2018 season has concluded.

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Cowboys, Lawrence Will Not Reach Deal

No surprise here, but the Cowboys and DeMarcus Lawrence will not reach agreement on an extension before Monday’s 4pm ET/3pm CT deadline, Todd Archer of ESPN.com hears (on Twitter). Instead, Lawrence will play out the 2018 season on his $17.143MM franchise tag. 

Lawrence, 26, had 14.5 sacks in 2017. That total was the most by a Cowboys player since DeMarcus Ware had 19 in 2011. The Cowboys also notched 38 sacks as a team, giving them their highest total overall since ’11. Despite some bumps early on in his career, including back issues, Lawrence underscored his importance to the club with a big campaign last year. He also did not miss any games in ’17.

It is believed that Lawrence is gunning to top Olivier Vernon‘s five-year, $85MM deal with the Giants and his agent – the same one that represents Vernon – wants at least $17MM/year. For what it’s worth, Lawrence’s ’17 sack total nearly doubled Vernon’s total from his contract year. He also graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 ranked DE, putting him behind only Cameron Jordan and Von Miller amongst edge rushers.

Apparently, that’s a bit too rich for the Cowboys’ blood at this time. As a result, the Cowboys will not be able to reopen negotiations with Lawrence until January 2019.

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Latest On Franchise-Tagged Players

Monday’s 3pm CT deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign extensions may come and go without one being finalized.

After a Saturday report indicated re-ups were unlikely for DeMarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com confirmed Ansah and the Lions won’t agree to terms by Monday afternoon and adds Lawrence is unlikely to come to terms with the Cowboys (Twitter links).

As for the other two tagged players, prospects also appear grim. Schefter reports (on Twitter) Lamarcus Joyner is not expected to reach an extension with the Rams, though he adds the sides are still discussing one. And despite Mike Tomlin‘s hopes of Le’Veon Bell finally agreeing to a Steelers accord, Schefter reports (via Twitter) that’s unlikely, too. However, the Steelers and Bell have made recent progress and will keep trying until the deadline. But this report throws some cold water on an 11th-hour solution coming to pass.

Ansah and the Lions have been far apart throughout this process, and the Lions are planning to see if their top edge defender can stay healthy and prove reliable enough for a long-term commitment. The Cowboys may be using the same strategy with their injury-prone pass rusher, despite making a stronger effort to discuss a deal with Lawrence.

Bell and the Steelers have been circling each other for years, but if the parties can’t agree by Monday afternoon, their arrangement will be a full-fledged rental situation. Bell will likely be headed toward the 2019 UFA market if the Steelers don’t sign him by Monday. The Rams’ issues with Aaron Donald‘s deal leave Joyner in a strange spot. Los Angeles possesses a league-low $2MM in cap space and has a glut of contract calls coming — Donald, Joyner, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters — in what will be a complicated stretch for the now-high-profile team.

Of course, by the Lions, Cowboys and Rams not agreeing on deals with their tagged performers, that ups prices down the line. Since Bell has already been twice tagged, it would cost the Steelers a staggering $20MM-plus to tag their All-Pro back again.

Ansah is going to play this season for $17.1MM, and if Lawrence indeed is still without a deal by Monday evening, he will too. Joyner will count nearly $12MM on the Rams’ payroll, while Bell’s $14.5MM 2018 salary has been well-known for months by NFL contract buffs.

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Extensions Not Expected For Ziggy Ansah, DeMarcus Lawrence

The two defensive ends among the four-man franchise tag contingent are not expected to reach long-term extension agreements with their respective teams by Monday’s deadline.

Neither Ziggy Ansah nor DeMarcus Lawrence appear to be close to finalizing a deal, with Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reporting (via Twitter) that, barring a major breakthrough in talks, the veteran edge defenders look set to play this season on the tag. Calvin Watkins of The Athletic also hears the prospect of a Lawrence/Cowboys re-up is unlikely (Twitter link).

The Cowboys and Lawrence were reported to have discussed what it would take to come together on an extension this week, but it doesn’t look like those talks were especially productive. As for Ansah, the Lions have been rumored for months to view 2018 as more of an audition season to see if he can stay healthy and thrive in Matt Patricia‘s scheme.

This will mean $17MM-plus cap numbers for both the Cowboys and Lions. The latter’s been prepared to foot this bill for a while, and the former’s payroll doesn’t look like it did at the close of free agency’s major spending period. Though Dez Bryant‘s contract has an $8MM dead-money tag this year, the Cowboys do not have a major pass-catcher expense on their cap sheet after Bryant was released and Jason Witten retired. Dallas also extended Zack Martin yet holds $14.8MM in cap space.

Detroit currently has $9MM in cap room and just three players (Matthew Stafford, Ansah and T.J. Lang) attached to eight-figure cap holds this year. The Cowboys’ cap sheet also has just three eight-figure hits (Tyron Smith, Lawrence and Sean Lee). Dallas’ cap becomes more manageable in 2019, when both Bryant and Tony Romo‘s dead-money figures are off the books.

Renting extra years of Lawrence and Ansah makes sense for both NFC teams because of the injury histories for each pass rusher. Lawrence dealt with significant back problems prior to putting a 14.5-sack season together in his contract year. Ansah experienced back and knee troubles last season, and although he still registered 12 sacks, six of those came in his final two games — after he’d to some degree shaken those maladies.

Ansah, though, may have a more pivotal season ahead considering he will be 30 by the time 2019 free agency opens. Lawrence just turned 26.

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Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawrence To Meet Next Week

The Cowboys and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence are expected to meet next week, according to Calvin Watkins of The Athletic. Lawrence is seeking a five-year deal, a source tells Watkins, but he’s not in a rush to sign. 

As we’ve heard before, Lawrence is willing to play out the season on his one-year, $17.1MM franchise tag. He’s also waiting things out to see if at least one of the other top defenders will sign an extension first. That means waiting on Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Jadeveon Clowney, though Lawrence is the only one in the group that is actually bound by a deadline. Franchise tagged players have until July 16 to sign extensions, so Lawrence may be compelled to act first.

Lawrence, 26, had 14.5 sacks in 2017. That total was the most by a Cowboys player since DeMarcus Ware had 19 in 2011. The Cowboys also notched 38 sacks as a team, giving them their highest total overall since ’11.

The Cowboys would obviously like to lock Lawrence up for years to come, but they probably have some reservations as well. Specifically, his back issues. Lawrence has undergone surgery in the past, though he did not miss any games last season.

Lawrence may be gunning to top Olivier Vernon‘s five-year, $85MM deal with the Giants and his agent – the same one that represents Vernon – wants at least $17MM/year. For what it’s worth, Lawrence’s ’17 sack total nearly doubled Vernon’s total from his contract year. He also graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 ranked DE, putting him behind only Cameron Jordan and Von Miller amongst edge rushers.

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East Rumors: Patriots, Lawrence, Giants

Despite an offseason that included retirement rumors, contract frustration and trade talks, Rob Gronkowski appears to be sufficiently ready to put some of this behind him. The Patriots‘ future Hall of Fame tight end attributed his time away from the team to determining whether he could handle the rigors of a ninth season.

I am refreshed,” Gronkowski told NFL.com’s Willie McGinest (via NBC Sports Boston). “You know after the season, long seasons, how your body can feel and everything. I just wanted to see where I was at, and see how I can get my body feeling, see if I can handle it, endure it again, and I feel like I’m super ready, man.”

Gronkowski remains without an adjusted contract, despite the sides being rumored to be close to finalizing one. Gronk has not been connected to a training camp holdout just yet, though given his injury history and actions this offseason, one can’t necessarily be ruled out. But the 29-year-old tight end is set to return for the Patriots, which will be even more important than it usually is considering Julian Edelman will miss a second straight September.

Here’s the latest from New England and some other cities whose teams play in Eastern divisions.

  • After Danielle Hunter‘s extension, Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston identifies Trey Flowers as a prime candidate to cash in. However, Flowers’ Patriots employment may delay a big deal. The Patriots have traded away defenders with higher profiles in recent years, dealing Jamie Collins and future All-Pro Chandler Jones, so Curran warns this situation could be slow-played — particularly because of the Hunter deal — past Flowers’ 2018 contract year. Although, Hunter’s $12MM-AAV extension can be considered a team-friendly pact given his age and potential. Flowers led the AFC champions with 6.5 sacks last season and looks to again be the team’s best edge-rushing presence.
  • With less than two weeks left until the deadline for teams to sign franchise-tagged players to extensions, might the Cowboys consider letting DeMarcus Lawrence play on the tag? The Cowboys may be somewhat skittish about the defensive end’s injury history, per Jori Epstein of the Dallas Morning News, and would like to see if Lawrence can duplicate his breakout 2017 season. While Lawrence is set to count $17MM-plus toward Dallas’ 2018 cap, the team already finalized an extension with Zack Martin and still has $14.8MM worth of cap space. And the Cowboys did not replace Dez Bryant or Jason Witten with big-money pass-catchers, so they may now be in position to take a wait-and-see approach with Lawrence.
  • The Giants added backup safety/special-teamer Michael Thomas in late March, before it became clear something was amiss with the safety market. Thomas signed for two years and $4MM, which gave the expected backup a better deal than longtime Chiefs starter Ron Parker received from the Falcons last week. Needless to say, Thomas believes something is up and connects it to Eric Reid‘s status as a free agent. “I was never worried, but collusion is real,” Thomas said about his free agency, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “I understand that, but it was a blessing in disguise. The Giants organization was the right situation for me.” Thomas isn’t the first outside of Reid to connect the former 49er’s offseason to the slowed safety market. Reid remains embroiled in a grievance with the NFL over his unemployment, which he connects to his involvement in the racial inequality-themed protests of the past two years.

July 16 Marks NFL’s Franchise Tag Extension Deadline

This year, the deadline for teams to reach extensions with franchise tagged players falls on July 16. If the following four players do not agree to new contracts in the coming days, they will be ticketed for free agency in 2019:

For Bell, the absence of a deal all but guarantees that he will be allowed to explore the open market next season. That’s because this is the second year in a row that Bell has been hit with the tag. He’ll make $14.544MM this season if no extension deal is reached, but a third tag would cost Pittsburgh more than $20MM. For the rest, the possibility of a second franchise tag remains, though the requisite 20% increase could prevent teams from applying the tender.

The rules of the franchise tag dictate that teams have until mid-July to hammer out an extension with players. If not, the two sides are barred from engaging in contract talks until after the season has concluded.

From 2013-2017, 16 of the league’s 33 franchise tagged players agreed to extensions before the summer deadline. This year, it’s hard to say whether deals will be reached for any of the players in question. Bell is looking for a deal that will reflect his production as a top running back and a No. 2 wide receiver. The defensive ends, Ansah and Lawrence, know that teams are willing to overpay for quality edge rushers in free agency. Joyner, meanwhile, may be content to let the Rams control his fate since he’ll either make $11MM+ this year and hit free agency, or earn $25MM through two franchise tags and reach the open market in 2020.

Then again, a serious injury could derail any member of this quartet, so there’s something to be said for financial security over monetary upside. Joyner, in particular, could be quietly eager to sign a multi-year deal after watching a dismal free agent safety market play out this offseason.

What we do know for sure is that the next 12 days will be worth monitoring.

DeMarcus Lawrence Willing To Play On Tag

The Cowboys have until mid-July to hammer out a long-term extension with DeMarcus Lawrence. If not, he’ll play out the year on the one-year, $17.143MM franchise tag. Other players might worry about that lack of security, but that’s fine with the defensive end. 

It really doesn’t matter,” Lawrence said this week (via Jon Machota of the Dallas News). “If I do my thing, I put up my stats and I help my team win, they ain’t got no choice but to sign me. That’s how I feel.”

Lawrence, who turned 26 this spring, had 14.5 sacks in 2017. That total was the most by a Cowboys player since another DeMarcus – DeMarcus Ware – had 19 in 2011. The Cowboys also notched 38 sacks as a team, giving them their highest total overall since ’11.

Lawrence was a big reason for the Cowboys’ success against opposing quarterbacks and they ideally would like to keep him in the long term. However, agent David Canter is believed to be seeking a deal that will at least match that of fellow client Olivier Vernon. In 2016, Vernon signed the largest deal in NFL history for a defensive end when he inked a five-year, $85MM deal with the Giants.

The advanced metrics also underscored Lawrence’s dominance in 2017. Last year, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 ranked edge rusher, putting him behind only Cameron Jordan and Von Miller.

As shown on Roster Resource, the Cowboys project to start Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford at defensive end with Brian Price and Maliek Collins in the middle. Defensive ends David Irving, 2017 first-round pick Taco Charlton, and free agent addition Kony Ealy are also ticketed for significant playing time at DE and that group could be strengthened even further if Randy Gregory is cleared to play in 2018.

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