FRISCO, Texas — The breakthrough in contract negotiations between the Dallas Cowboys and David Canter, the agent for DeMarcus Lawrence, was a phone call that included the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
The idea of the call was to get both sides understanding each other’s perspectives better and ultimately started the groundwork for the five-year, $105-million deal Lawrence signed Tuesday.
On the call, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones mentioned the team had to have the ability to spread the salary-cap space around to retain players such as Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones, and others going forward to build a Super Bowl roster.
“That is not my concern,” Lawrence told Jones. “That’s your job.”
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) April 9, 2019
The pieces of the salary-cap pie are smaller with Lawrence’s deal complete, but not to the point where the Cowboys can’t keep their cornerstone players on large, even precedent-setting deals.
“He’s trying to get as much of the pie as he can,” Jones said. “We understand that too. But at the end of the day, I think he understood what we were trying to do. I think it’s great to get on the phone and see there is a mutual respect there. I think sometimes you feel like, ‘They’re against me,’ but we’re really not. We’re rooting for him. We want to get it done. We want to pay him, as I’ve said about all of the players. We want to pay them fairly but unfortunately, if you’re going to try to put together a Super Bowl-caliber team, not unlike the early ’90s, you can’t have everybody trying to max out their deal.
“I know deep down that’s a hard thing to get your hands around when you’re a player, but at the same time that’s our job, is to try to verbalize that to them that we’ve got to take care of other people, too.”
At the moment, Lawrence’s deal is the largest the Cowboys have given out in terms of average per year ($21 million) and guaranteed money ($65 million). In a matter of weeks or months, it probably will be the second-largest deal by the franchise.
“When you’re getting ready to [pay] a quarterback who is a franchise quarterback and already has put some serious skins on the wall like Dak has, no, he’s probably not going to be there long,” Jones acknowledged, “but he can always say he held the mantle. Albeit, it might be a short time.”
Prescott is set to make a little more than $2 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Tom Brady is the only quarterback with more wins than Prescott (32) since 2016 with 35. Brady has pocketed $44.8 million the past three years. Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger have won 31 games the past three seasons and made $71.3 million and $46.8 million in that span, respectively.
Prescott is looking at a massive raise, perhaps in the range of $28 million a year on an extension. On a related note, Jones did not want to get into how a new deal for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would affect any talks with Prescott.
Cooper, who helped change the fortunes of the Cowboys’ 2018 season — and Prescott’s — after a trade from the Oakland Raiders, is looking at becoming one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers at around $17 million a year. Perhaps more.
The Cowboys have had discussions, if not heavy negotiations at this point, with the agents for Prescott and Cooper.
“We’ve talked and are going at a certain pace here that more than anything, the players and their representatives are comfortable with,” Jones said. “You’ve got to have a willing partner.”
The Cowboys and Lawrence eventually became willing partners, thanks to the phone call, after some hard feelings developed. In reality, there was no way Lawrence wasn’t going to be a Cowboy. The long-term offer was too good and even if he had to play on the franchise tag, he was going to do that.
“It ain’t going to be no Le’Veon [Bell] situation,” Lawrence said. “I’m not skipping $20 mil for nobody.”
The Cowboys wanted to keep a talented player whom they developed (actually traded up for him in the draft’s second round in 2014), who played hurt through back and shoulder injuries and who became a leader. Lawrence’s 25 sacks are the fourth most in the NFL during the past two seasons.
“I think our players in our locker room know when we draft them and they have success that they’re going to be a priority for us,” Jones said. “Obviously we might get ourselves in a tight fit here as we move forward because we’ve had a tremendous amount of success in the draft. You hope you’ll be able to work through each and every one of them and keep these really good football players, and in some cases great football players, that we’ve drafted. But I do think it sends a message.
“The other thing is how special the Cowboys organization is in terms of what it can mean to these players. You looked up at one point last year and we had three of the top four of our players in the No. 1 spot in the booth. Think there’s no secret that our guys, we play on national television quite a bit more than most teams, and I think that helps players make Pro Bowls and All-Pros and in turn helps their earning power. We have players all around the community on other TV and radio networks that go on to have success in our community after football, which I think is important. Those are all things that we point out.”
The sales pitch never stops. Neither should the phone calls.