The roster turnover is about to begin. Free agency opens Thursday, and the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.
For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones that will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys’ 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they’ve been and where they’re going.
The series continues with fourth-year defensive end and former second-round draft pick DeMarcus Lawrence.
What’s Been Good: Lawrence gave the defensive line rotation a boost when he returned last October from a four-game NFL suspension. He ranked fourth on defense with 13 pressures despite playing only 327 defensive snaps in nine regular-season appearances (three starts). When he’s been relatively healthy, he’s been arguably the defense’s best pass rusher. (See: a team-best eight sacks in 2015.)
What’s Been Bad: The suspension cost Lawrence the first month of the season, and although he was able to play in the team’s divisional-round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, recurring back problems sidelined him for the final three games of the regular season. In fact, the Cowboys tried to manage Lawrence’s workload even before sitting him down in December; he played only 13 snaps in a Week 14 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
2016 Highlight: Lawrence’s most productive game happened to be one of the Cowboys’ signature wins: a 35-30 road victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lawrence tallied his lone sack and forced fumble of the season to go along with a season-best four tackles.
What’s Next: Lawrence had back surgery in January for the second consecutive offseason. Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, head coach Jason Garrett didn’t give a clear timetable for Lawrence’s recovery but said he’s doing well. The Cowboys still seem in favor of adding pass rush help to Rod Marinelli’s defensive line rotation. As free agency nears, they’re relatively short on salary cap space, but April’s draft does appear deep with edge rushers. Lawrence’s return should help, but it seems likely the D-Line group will look a little different when the 2017 season starts.