When the Cowboys opened the off-season, re-signing free agent defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and getting contract extensions for quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper were their main objectives.
Then possibly working on deals for running back Ezekiel Elliott and cornerback Byron Jones.
Roughly three weeks into free agency and the Cowboys have made no progress on any of them, while also drawing the ire of Lawrence, long-considered the top priority, because of a low initial offer.
The Cowboys have come up on their offer to Lawrence but not enough to his liking, and the two sides remain far apart in negotiations.
The Cowboys have placed the franchise tag on Lawrence, guaranteeing him $20.5 million in 2019. But he has no plans on signing the tag and has threatened to postpone shoulder surgery until he gets a deal done, adding some testiness to the negotiations.
Yet, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones remains calm about it all. He’s been through a number of tough contract battles since buying the team in 1989 and refuses to take it personally.
He said things eventually work out as they did in 1993 with Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, who held out the first two games of the season before Jones got a deal done and led the Cowboys to the second of three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.
“This has gone on as far back for me, notably, with Emmitt Smith,” Jones said. “Any of you that know my relationship with Emmitt Smith today know that that’s a memory we smile about the way we are 20 something years later and we’re in business together. That’s just part of the business.
“The main thing I don’t want to be is cavalier. This is a significant thing for not only our franchise but DeMarcus’ life. It would make anyone be very, very judicious as they are working through the terms of this agreement. So the fact we don’t have something done today is not inordinate when you look at the things that are at stake here.”
Smith did miss the first two games of the season, two losses by the Cowboys, which forced Jones’ hand.
Still, Jones said Lawrence postponing surgery and possibly not showing up is nothing new for him.
“They’re all points to consider and they cause you to give and take,” Jones said. “Again, those are considerations. It’s a misnomer to call them concerns. It’s a misnomer to sound frivolous or trivial about it. Every point has to ultimately be agreed to before you can agree to go forward for several years for the kinds of dollars we’re talking about right there. This is just not anything I haven’t been involved in hundreds of times.”
But Jones acknowledged that because of the type of contract that Lawrence is likely going to get — between $20.5 million-$23.5 million annually with upwards of $50 million guaranteed — the first year is the most important year. That is when he will get the bulk of the money.
So getting Lawrence signed in time to have shoulder surgery and be ready to play a full season is very important.
“We’re all aware, as it turns out, this is a contract to play football and the first year is a big one,” Jones said. “At the kinds of dollars we’re talking about, it’s just a given that you’d get the full year at top, physical condition, that’s what you’re getting. If you don’t get that it depreciates what you’re doing. It works both ways.”