Lawrence watches young Parsons in Cowboys sack race
Schuyler Dixon Associated press
FRISCO — DeMarcus Lawrence used to say he didn’t care about sacks as long as he felt productive — until Micah Parsons led the Dallas Cowboys in that category while winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021.
The veteran defensive end could take inspiration from the second-year linebacker three years after Lawrence’s only two seasons with double-digit sacks.
“I let a rookie show me last year,” Lawrence said. “Well done to my boy Micah. But reassert my dominance. Let everyone know I’m coming, how I feel, and the kind of respect I’m going to demand when I step onto this pitch.
Parsons appreciates that his club rookie record of 13 sacks could help motivate Lawrence, who needs to combine totals from his last three seasons to match his career high of 14 1/2 from 2017.
Penn State’s 2021 first-round pick isn’t conceding anything, though.
“I want D-Law to be who he is,” Parsons said. “I’m not taking that away from him. But sorry to tell him, he’ll never get it back. I want him to get all the fun he can…so he can be a 10-bag guy, great. But if 10 is the number, I’m going for 20.”
Lawrence never had the chance to be as productive as Parsons last season.
By the time Lawrence returned from a broken foot that cost him 10 games, Parsons had one more sack than DeMarcus Ware’s eight from 2005, which was the most for a Dallas rookie since sacks became official in 1982.
Lawrence finished last season with three sacks in seven games, leaving him in single digits for a third straight season since signing a five-year, $105 million deal that avoided a second straight year of playing on the franchise label.
The Cowboys moved into the second round to sign Lawrence in 2014 weeks after releasing Ware, the club’s career sack leader with 117, in a cost-cutting move.
Lawrence’s fate likely would have been the same had he not accepted a reworked contract this offseason ($40 million, three-year, $30 million guaranteed). He called it a no-brainer to end his career with the Cowboys. Ware moved to Denver and won a Super Bowl.
The Cowboys’ off-season practices began about a month after Lawrence turned 30, and he showed up without the dreadlocks he said he had started growing as a rookie. This is another part of his motivation.
“I had a lot of fun with my dreads. It was a growth stage that I was going through,” Lawrence said. “I turned 30 this year, so I figure it’s time for me to change into a grown man.”
Lawrence thought he would bring Randy Gregory back as another defensive end, but Gregory changed his mind and signed with the Broncos in free agency.
Now the focus turns to Lawrence and Parsons, though Parsons won’t always be lined up as an end. The 23-year-old’s speed and flexibility helped Parsons post a number of sacks that Lawrence now feels he has to chase.
“I think he’s got somebody else who challenges him and plays the same way he does on that defense can even unleash the D-Law that you’ve seen for a long time,” Parsons said. “I’m just excited. He’s got something about him that I don’t see in a lot of people, and he’s just a dog.
A year ago, Lawrence was hoping a healthy offseason could get his production back on track. Then he broke his foot in practice the week after Game 1 and could only watch Parsons emerge and the Cowboys take over the NFC East.
Lawrence is no longer the star who produced 25 sacks over two seasons — or the up-and-coming rookie who had the first two sacks of his playoff career in the 2014 season.
Coach Mike McCarthy is all for the idea of another promising young player helping Lawrence recover on those days.
“I think it’s healthy, and it’s really part of the competition,” McCarthy said. “D-Law has a lot of skins on the wall. And I think as players go through their careers, they’re always looking for a way to be challenged.
It didn’t take long for Lawrence to mention that he felt challenged.