The Dallas Cowboys placed the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence on Monday, guaranteeing the Pro Bowl defensive end $17.5 million in 2018.
The Cowboys had until Tuesday to put the tag on Lawrence, who can still sign a long-term deal with the club that traded up him to get him early in the second round in 2014.
Lawrence tied All-Pro Calais Campbell of Jacksonville for second in the NFL with 14 1/2 sacks last season. The 25-year-old’s breakout year came after he struggled with injuries most of his first three seasons. He had back surgery each of the previous two offseasons.
On the one-year contract, Lawrence’s salary would be the average of the NFL’s five highest-paid defensive ends.
Lawrence is an important piece with the Cowboys trying to get back to the playoffs after missing at 9-7 a year after they had an NFC-best 13 wins before losing a divisional playoff to Green Bay.
The former Boise State player emerged for a Dallas defense that has lacked star power beyond 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee. Lawrence surpassed his previous career high of eight sacks in the fifth game.
Pass rushing was a problem for the Cowboys each of their past two trips to the playoffs. In 2014, they finished 28th in sacks and couldn’t get to a hobbled Aaron Rodgers in a divisional loss to the Packers after Lawrence clinched a wild-card win over Detroit with a sack of Matthew Stafford.
In the rematch with Rodgers, Dallas sacked him three times but couldn’t get a stop in the final minutes of a 34-31 loss in January 2017.
Lawrence broke a foot in training camp his rookie year, missing half the season. His second year was Lawrence’s only full season, when he had 31 QB pressures to go with the eight sacks.
After serving a four-game drug suspension to start 2016, he had three sacks in nine games before missing the final three regular-season games with a back injury. He played in the divisional loss to the Packers.