DeMarcus Lawrence believes he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end who can get double-digit sacks on a yearly basis. He just hasn’t played up to that potential.
At least not yet.
Lawrence is hoping his fourth season in the NFL becomes his breakout year. He’s spent the off-season focused on getting to his prime playing weight, and he is determined to show that last season was an aberration.
Lawrence had a forgettable 2016 season from start (when he was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy) to finish (one sack in nine games).
“A one-sack year? That’s not me,” Lawrence said. “I’ve already got that in my mind, you know, that I’m going to be the best. When my son grows up, I want him to say, ‘Man, my dad was a beast.’ The film don’t lie. I’ve just got to make sure I put it on the film now.”
If Lawrence is able to follow through on his words and become a “beast,” he’ll be in line for a nice pay day. Lawrence is in the final year of his rookie contract and the NFL is a pass rush-starved league.
Olivier Vernon was handed an $85 million contract coming off a 7.5 sack season in 2015. Jason Pierre-Paul and Calais Campbell each received deals worth more than $60 million this off-season despite not getting double-digit sacks last year.
Lawrence, 25, is aware of his contract situation but isn’t overly concerned about it.
“I mean, my job is my job. I can’t sit here and try to put pressure on top of myself,” said Lawrence, who will make $1.17 million this year. “I’ve got enough pressure coming off an injury, coming off a one-sack year.
“My goal is 10-plus sacks all the time. I feel like I can be a Pro Bowl player. I just haven’t lived up to those expectations dealing with the injuries and my personal issues.”
The personal issues refers to his suspension, which stunted his growth a season ago. Lawrence was coming off an eight-sack season in 2015 and appeared primed for stardom.
But the suspension cost him valuable practice and game time the first four weeks of the 2016 season. When he returned in Week 5, Lawrence never became the dominant player most expected.
Part of that had to do with him re-aggravating a back injury that required surgery for a second straight off-season.
“It took a toll on me mentally and physically,” Lawrence said. “I had some things going on and I was just off beat my first step. It slowed down a lot and with my weight also. That’s why I’m focusing more on all those issues this year.”
Lawrence said his back is “feeling great” at this point in off-season workouts, and he believes he’s in “the best shape possible to go out and do everything I can this year.”
As he put it, “If I’m healthy, I can play. As long as I am healthy, I can show you what I can do. Just focusing on my health and my weight. I feel I’ll be good this year.”
Added coach Jason Garrett: “He has been banged up and he has played. He has had an opportunity a couple of different times in his career to say, ‘OK, I’m going to get a surgery and I’m not going to play. I will see you next year.’ He hasn’t done that. He has played through stuff. … He is a good example and real inspiration to his teammates.”
As Garrett alluded to, Lawrence didn’t let 2016’s underwhelming production effect his presence in the locker room. He still emerged as one of the leaders in the defensive line room, and garnered praise from veterans on the team.
Tight end Jason Witten used Lawrence as a positive example of a player who overcame an early-season suspension when discussing defensive end David Irving and cornerback Nolan Carroll, who both face suspensions this season.
“DeMarcus Lawrence is a great example,” Witten said. “How he kind of handled his situation and came back and is one of the leaders on our football team. When you overcome that, you can be better because of it.”
Now, it’s on Lawrence to carry it onto the field and play up to his self-described Pro Bowl potential. The Cowboys certainly need it.