DeMarcus Lawrence apologized and expressed regret for his four-game suspension Sunday.
Lawrence blamed only himself for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy earlier this offseason, which will cost the team their most proven pass rusher early on and cost Lawrence $230,151.
“My disappointment is it’s on me,” Lawrence said in his first public comments. “I messed up. I learn from my mistakes, and I just have to move on and get everything right.”
Lawrence, 24, said he apologized to his teammates during organized team activities, as well as the Jones family. Lawrence felt he had to let everyone within the organization hear from him on the matter.
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Lawrence, the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft, has emerged as one of the leaders on the defense going into his third season.
“We’re a team,” Lawrence said. “Somebody goes down, you’ve got to admit to your decisions and your mistakes. I feel like that was the right thing to do because I feel like my team counts on me as a leader.
“I had to step up like a man and let them know I’m sorry.”
Coach Jason Garrett appreciated Lawrence accepting responsibility for his situation and handling it like a professional. So did his teammates.
“It was important for him to acknowledge that,” Garrett said. “He’s a good person. He’s a good teammate. He works hard. He wants to be the best he can be, and he wants his team to be the best it can be. I think he’s acted accordingly since then.”
Added safety Byron Jones: “He’s a stand-up guy who takes responsibility for his mistakes. Obviously it’s an unfortunate one for us, but he’s moving on from it.”
Lawrence admitted feeling “guilty” about his suspension and tried unsuccessfully to appeal it and get it reduced.
Lawrence is able to practice and play in training camp and preseason games, but will be away from the team for the first four weeks of the regular season. That is a setback for a team that has plenty of pass rush questions.
The Cowboys only had 31 sacks a year ago, and Lawrence led the team with eight as he thrived from the left defensive end spot. David Irving is working at left end with the second-team, and Jack Crawford, Benson Mayowa and Ryan Russell are other options to fill in.
But the Cowboys remain high on Lawrence and his ability to make an impact when he returns in Week 5 against the Bengals. Lawrence is confident in his ability, too, following a breakout sophomore season in which he had 56 tackles, 31 quarterback pressures, a forced fumble and eight sacks.
“Oh, yeah, most definitely. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder,” Lawrence said. “You’ve got to play like that when you know you let the team down for the first four. You’ve got to come out hard.”
Lawrence reported to camp at 275 pounds, about 5-10 pounds heavier than he’d like. Part of that is a result of offseason back surgery, but Lawrence said he is feeling good physically and vowed to be “lean and mean” when he returns.
If Lawrence continues to become a productive pass rusher and gets his off-field issues in line, the Cowboys would certainly be interested in signing him to an extension. He is due to make $1.17 million next season in the final year of his rookie contract, and pass rushers are hard to find.
Lawrence knows this better than anyone and acknowledged that he can’t let the suspension become a setback in his development.
“It’s going to be tougher, but I’ve got to stay committed to my goals and to my teammates,” Lawrence said. “When I get back, I'll be ready.”