On any scale, Lawrence was a massive disappointment, posting five quarterback takedowns across all 16 starts — 668 defensive snaps. It was his worst statistical campaign since 2016, when he made just one sack, and a distressingly sharp downturn from the 25 combined sacks during his 2017-18 seasons.
Lawrence has heard the noise, whispers that he checked out after landing a five-year, $105 million extension ($65 million guaranteed) in April 2019.
He responded boisterously, vowing to return to pre-windfall form.
“Nothing happened to me last year,” Lawrence said on FOX Sports 1, via the Dallas Morning News. “I know I ended the season with five sacks, but I also helped other players boost their numbers back up to double digits. It’s not a one-man game, and I know how to play the game the right way. I know how to make plays when plays come my way. And I also know how to make sure my teammates are making their plays. You don’t have to worry about nothing. Trust me, the sack number will be back up.”
There’s some truth wrapped in Tank’s guarantee. That he was double-teamed by opposing teams created one-on-one opportunities for players like Robert Quinn, who led the Cowboys with 11.5 sacks, and midseason addition Michael Bennett, who recorded 6.5 sacks. The way he sees it: Lawrence sacrificed so others could flourish as the Cowboys limped to an 8-8 finish.
Of course, there were larger, organizational issues at play, too.
“I think it all comes down to knowing who you are and focusing on what’s in front of you,” Lawrence said. “We had so many obstacles come our way and it kind of divided us as a team. We were worried about other things around us instead of sticking to our jobs and the coach. We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had to win.”
But while Quinn and Bennett no longer don the star, Lawrence faces similar roadblocks in the form of suspended DEs Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory, both of whom are vying for NFL reinstatement. Smith, a former first-round pick who joined Dallas this offseason, was once the league’s premier edge rusher while Gregory logged an out-of-nowhere six-sack 2018 season before an indefinite ban cratered his promising career.
What’s more, the Cowboys chose to retain starting DE Tyrone Crawford, brought in defensive linemen Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, and spent a fifth-round draft pick on edge rusher Bradlee Anae.
Lawrence, 28, is cemented as Crawford’s bookend and certainly has the talent to hit double-digit sack marks in new coordinator Mike Nolan’s blitz-heavy system. However, he’s firmly on the hot seat with a potential out in his megadeal in 2022, and the club again has capable backups waiting in the wings.
His long-term future hinges on whether Dallas gets 2017 Lawrence or 2019 Lawrence — two entirely different performers, as they’ve come to know.
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