FRISCO, Texas (AP) — DeMarcus Lawrence used to say he didn't care about sacks as long as he felt he was being productive — until Micah Parsons led the Dallas Cowboys in that category while winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021.
The veteran defensive end just might be drawing some inspiration from the second-year linebacker three years after Lawrence's only two seasons with double-digit sacks.
“I let a rookie show me up last year,” Lawrence said. “Shout-out to my boy Micah. But restate my dominance. Let everybody know that I’m coming, how I feel, and the type of respect I’m going to demand when I step on that field.”
Parsons appreciates that his club rookie record of 13 sacks might help motivate Lawrence, who has to combine the totals from his past three seasons to match his career high of 14 1/2 from 2017.
The 2021 first-round draft pick out of Penn State concedes nothing, 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’s never getting that back. I want him to get all the enjoyment that he possibly can ... so he can be a 10-sack guy, great. But if 10’s the number, I’m going for 20.”
Lawrence never had a 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 were 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 consecutive season since signing a $105 million, five-year contract that avoided a second straight year of playing on the franchise tag.
The Cowboys moved up in the second round to draft Lawrence in 2014 a few weeks after releasing Ware, the club's career sacks leader with 117, in a cost-cutting move.
Lawrence's fate likely would have been the same had he not agreed to a reworked contract this offseason ($40 million, three years, $30 million guaranteed). He called it a no-brainer to finish his career with the Cowboys. Ware moved on to Denver and won a Super Bowl.
The Cowboys' offseason practices started about a month after Lawrence turned 30, and he showed up without the dreadlocks he said he started growing as a rookie. That's another part of his motivation.
“I had my fun with my dreads. It was a growing stage that I was going through,” Lawrence said. “I turned 30 this year, so I’m like, it’s time for me to make a grown-man change.”
Lawrence thought he would have Randy Gregory back as the other defensive end, but Gregory changed his mind and signed with the Broncos in free agency.
Now the focus turns to Lawrence and Parsons, even though Parsons won't be lined up as an end all the time. 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 him getting someone else that challenges him and plays the same way as him on this defense may even spark the D-Law you saw from way back when,” Parsons said. “I’m just excited. He has something in him that I don’t see many people have, and that’s just a dog.”
A year ago, Lawrence hoped a healthy offseason could get his production back on track. Then he broke his foot in practice the week after the opener and could only watch as Parsons emerged and the Cowboys took control of the NFC East.
Lawrence is no longer the star who produced 25 sacks over two seasons — or the promising rookie who had the first two sacks of his career in the playoffs during the 2014 season.
Coach Mike McCarthy is all for the notion of another promising young player helping Lawrence recapture those days.
“I think that’s healthy, and that’s really part of the competition,” McCarthy said. “D-Law has got a lot of pelts on the wall. And I think as players move through their careers, they’re always looking for a way to be challenged.”
It didn't take Lawrence long to mention that he felt challenged.