A position of need for the Cowboys has taken another hit as the club prepares for next week’s draft.
DeMarcus Lawrence faces a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, several sources said. The Cowboys have yet to be notified of any action, which means Lawrence and his representatives are in the process of challenging the ruling. But sources said all indications are that the club will be without its starting left defensive end to open the season.
The impending suspension is the second in the past nine weeks for the team’s defensive front. Randy Gregory was notified in February that he will miss the first four games of the regular season for his fourth violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Speculation immediately shifts to how this impacts the club’s draft strategy. The loss of two young defensive ends, along with the decision not to resign veteran Greg Hardy, places an even greater premium on the position.
A consensus has emerged that Ohio State’s Joey Bosa is the top defensive end available in this draft. He should be on the board when the Cowboys pick at No. 4 next Thursday evening. Does Wednesday’s revelation suggest the club will lean toward Bosa over cornerback Jalen Ramsey if both players are available when the team is on the clock?
This is something club officials will discuss thoroughly in coming days. Another option also remains in place.
Veteran defensive end Jason Jones visited the Cowboys earlier in free agency. He visited Miami late last week and remains unsigned.
Jones started 31 games and recorded 9.5 sacks for Detroit over the past two seasons. If the Lawrence decision comes down from the league before the draft, the Cowboys could sign Jones to alleviate undue influence to select Bosa at No. 4 if a better option exists.
Jeremy Mincey, who has started 30 games for the Cowboys over the past two seasons, is also available.
Here’s another option: the Cowboys have the flexibility to swing Tyrone Crawford (Boise State) outside to defensive end for a few games and select a defensive tackle in the second or third round to compensate for the loss of Lawrence and Gregory if the club feels the need is that pressing.
The Cowboys added defensive tackle Cedric Thornton and defensive end Benson Mayowa to the line earlier in free agency.
This is how the impending suspension impacts the Cowboys plans. But what does it mean to Lawrence? Financially, the third-year player would have $216,612 detracted from his salary in 2016.
Lawrence came into his own last season, proving to be a physical player who can set the edge against the run yet still put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He led the Cowboys in sacks with eight and all of the team’s defensive linemen with 56 tackles. He was second on the team in quarterback pressures with 31 and forced a fumble.
Lawrence suffered a back injury late in the season that turned out to be more severe than the team originally thought. Executive vice president Stephen Jones revealed this news at the NFL Combine in February but said, “it’s nothing that we have concerns about going forward.’’
It’s unclear if Lawrence’s upcoming suspension is related in any way to his comeback from that injury.
The Cowboys, with an eye toward upgrading their defensive line, gave up a third round pick to move up to the top portion of the second round (No. 34) to take Lawrence two years ago. The club did this knowing that Lawrence served three, one-game suspensions in his two years at Boise State for unspecified violations of team rules.
The night he was selected, Lawrence told reporters, “I let all the teams know that I put my childish behaviors behind me and I’ve moved on and it’s time for me to become a Cowboy. It’s time for me to grow up and do my duties and play football.’’
Head coach Jason Garrett said at the time that the club had discussed Lawrence’s issues.
Club officials and players have insisted over the past two seasons that Lawrence is a good person and teammate.
“Guys that grew up during this season, DeMarcus Lawrence,’’ Mincey said the day after the season came to an end. “He grew up.’’
It appears he has more growing to do.
And the Cowboys have some decision to make.