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While Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters at the Senior Bowl this week that re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was a top priority, talks about a contract extension between the Cowboys and Lawrence’s agent have not yet begun. There’s no panic in Lawrence’s camp, however.

“It’s great for them to prioritize me as being a Cowboy,” said Lawrence, who’s at the Pro Bowl in Orlando this week. “I’m not worried about it. I’m gonna let my agent worry about that part. … I believe and trust in him 100 percent to get the job done.”

Lawrence’s agent, David Canter, who’s also in Orlando for the Pro Bowl, told ESPN that he expects things will pick up in a few weeks. He plans on meeting with the Cowboys at the NFL combine, which kicks off Feb. 28 in Indianapolis. The legal tampering period runs from March 12-14 this year, with free agency officially getting underway March 14 at 4 p.m. ET.

“I would imagine that they’re probably not just letting us get to free agency and leave Dallas,” said Canter, who indicated that he has a good working relationship with the Cowboys’ front office and expects conversations to be friendly.

“It’s really up to them to want to do a deal that’s in line with what the market is for a young, ascending, elite franchise-caliber defensive end,” Canter said. “Whatever that number ends up being remains to be seen. But I do imagine and believe that we’ll have multiple conversations over the next month or so. I think it’s early right now.”

Lawrence was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2017 season for the Cowboys, who finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs after going 13-3 the previous year. Lawrence had 14.5 sacks, tied for second in the league with Calais Campbell. It was the highest sack total of any Cowboy since DeMarcus Ware in 2011. Lawrence’s 27 quarterback hits were tied with Aaron Donald for fifth-most in the league.

“I think DeMarcus is an unbelievably mature 25-year-old, Canter said. “And luckily, I was in a similar situation a few years ago with another unbelievably mature 25-year-old named Olivier Vernon. And things worked out pretty well for us with the Giants. The Dolphins had similar comments, and so you just kind of wait and see. Whenever the date comes that my phone rings, we’re ready to talk.”

Jones told the Fort Worth Star Telegram this week “that the only reason you use a franchise tag is to hopefully protect yourself if you can’t get a long-term deal signed that you like” and that the goal is a long-term deal.

“Certainly, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and see if we can do something with DeMarcus without having a franchise tag,” Jones said.

“He says, she says. I’m gonna go by what the paperwork says,” Lawrence said. “I’m not worried about that. I’m gonna let my agent handle that. Trust me, he’s gonna do a great job. He knows what I want and soon enough, y’all will know what I want.”

The Cowboys have used the franchise tag in the past, most recently tagging wide receiver Dez Bryant in 2015 before agreeing to a five-year deal worth $70 million. Prior to that, they’d tagged offensive tackle Flozell Adams in 2002, safety Ken Hamlin in 2008 and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in 2012 and 2013. All received new contracts, with Adams remaining with the team through the 2009 season. Spencer’s was for just a year due to a knee injury.

“Whether it results in a contract extension, I don’t know, but we’re not afraid of the franchise tag either,” Canter said. “I imagine the franchise tag will be higher than the average per year that I got Olivier Vernon a couple of years ago, which is $17 million a year, and I’m sure the Cowboys know that. I can imagine, just based on having done the analytics of their books and their cap situation, it’s not something they’d prefer to carry, but certainly they can and they will.”

One thing Lawrence made very clear was his love for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Marinelli’s passion for pass rush.

“Coach Marinelli is great. The intensity in all aspects of the game that he brings to us is tremendous,” Lawrence said. “I love him to death. I love him like a father. He taught me so much about the game. I’m just grateful to be under his wing.”

“That’s all you want in a coach, that believes in you 100 percent, doesn’t put a [ceiling] on your head — he knows you can be greater than what you thought you could be,” Lawrence said. “That’s what he brings to the team and that’s why we love him so much.”

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As DeMarcus Lawrence departed the locker room Monday, he carried with him a handful of opponents’ jerseys gathered throughout the season. He left the rest of his locker intact, while others gathered up their belongings in oversized trash bags and boxes.

Set to be an unrestricted free agent, Lawrence is certain he will be with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.

“I mean, I already know what my situation is,” Lawrence said. “I really don’t care about it because I already know how the Cowboys feel about me, and they know how I feel about the organization. My agent will take care of everything, bro. He knows how it feels. He knows my right moves, so he’ll do it.”

Lawrence did not have any qualms about whether the 6-0 win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday would be his last game with Dallas.

He remains confident the Cowboys will either sign him to a lucrative long-term deal or put the franchise tag on him.

Lawrence led the Cowboys with 14.5 sacks in 2017, which was 5.5 more than he recorded in his first three seasons with the team. The biggest reason he put up the numbers was health. He missed the first half of his rookie season with a broken foot and did not record a sack in the regular season. He had eight in 2015, which led the Cowboys, but needed offseason back surgery, which played a part in his picking up just one sack in 2016.

After a second back surgery last offseason, he managed to play every game this season and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

Having moved up to take Lawrence in the second round of the 2014 draft, the Cowboys view him as a long-term piece of their future, but reaching an agreement on a long-term deal could be difficult. If they use the franchise tag, then Lawrence would be guaranteed about $17 million in 2018.

The Cowboys last used the franchise tag on Dez Bryant in 2015 but worked out a long-term deal with the receiver before a summer deadline. Before that, the Cowboys put the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in back-to-back seasons.

“I don’t know where the chips are going to lay,” Lawrence said. “Say they spend all their money, what are they going to do? Tag me. Point-blank. Period. So I ain’t got time to sit here and think about that. I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to Jamaica or Hawaii.”

The other key free-agent decision for the Cowboys is linebacker Anthony Hitchens. The Cowboys discussed an extension with his agent during training camp, but nothing took hold. Hitchens missed the first four games with a knee injury but still managed more than 90 tackles, according to the coaches’ breakdown.

Given the injury histories of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, the versatile Hitchens is a big piece of the Cowboys’ defense. He could be in line for a bigger deal from another team, similar to what happened last offseason with safety Barry Church, who signed a lucrative deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“You never know it is a business until it hits you on the business side,” Hitchens said. “It is something that is out of my control and out of Dallas’ control. Hopefully I’m back here. This is home for me.”

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It didn’t take long for DeMarcus Lawrence to realize 2017 was going to be different for him.

On the Dallas Cowboys’ third defensive snap of the season, he sacked New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning for a 7-yard loss. He added a half sack later in the game, which meant he had more sacks in one game in 2017 than he did in nine in 2016.

“After my first sack, I felt like, ‘OK, I got my legs back. Now it’s time to roll,’” Lawrence said. “I’ve been feeling good ever since then.”

With two games to play, Lawrence has 13.5 sacks, good for third in the NFL and just 1.5 behind the leader, Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals. On Tuesday, Lawrence was named to his first Pro Bowl, a fitting reward for the best seasons by a Cowboys’ pass rusher in the last four years.

“It would be great for the recognition that the fans and coaches and players also see all the plays I’ve made on the field,” Lawrence said Tuesday before the Pro Bowl announcement was official.

What has been the difference for Lawrence this year?

“I think health,” he said. “Being in the system for a while. Going against our offensive line, you don’t have a choice but to get better.”

Lawrence’s rookie season was impacted by a broken foot suffered in training camp that cost him to miss the first eight games. In 2015, he led the Cowboys in sacks with eight, but he was never right last season following back surgery. He played anyway, despite missing seven games (four because of a suspension and three because of the back injury).

He had a second surgery going into this season and has not missed a game.

Since the opener against the Giants, Lawrence has seen more attention from opposing offenses. He does not get many one-on-one opportunities. They will have a tight end help a tackle and maybe send a running back his way as well.

“Other teams have scouting reports,” Lawrence said. “They have film also and I feel like they gave me a little bit more recognition throughout the season. That’s the way it is.”

In addition to the 13.5 sacks, the most by a Cowboys’ pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 in 2011, he has been credited by the coaches with 41 tackles, six tackles for loss and an astounding 45 quarterback pressures. His previous high in pressures was 31 in 2014. He also has forced four fumbles, recovered two and knocked down a pass.

“Sets the edge well, makes plays on the ball in the running game,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “You’ll see him make plays on the other side of the field running it down, 20, 30 yards down the field. He has been incredible. An All-Pro and really defensive MVP.”

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Last week, David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence offered advice to Ezekiel Elliott because at the time the Dallas Cowboys running back was on the suspended list.

Now that Elliott will miss Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons and is out for at least next four games and in all likelihood the next six, their advice remains solid on Friday since both players have dealt with suspensions the last two seasons.

Irving was suspended the first four games of this season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Lawrence missed the first four games last season for violating the substance-abuse policy.

Both said watching the games was the most difficult.

“Zeke, don’t watch the games, bro. Don’t watch them,” Lawrence said. “Just watch highlights.”

Lawrence said the frustration from watching was borne out of seeing plays he could have made.

“I didn’t really watch them play too much,” said Irving, who has five sacks in the three games he has played since returning. “It was tough. I felt like I was supposed to be out there. I’m part of the team, but now I’m not. I can’t talk to anybody. I can’t see anybody. It was tough.”

Lawrence said he kept himself busy by being a “stay-at-home dad.”

“It’s tough being away from your natural habitat and your environment, just being up here every day,” Lawrence said. “That’s the main thing that kills you. Once they take that away, you start losing hope, but you got to keep hope alive because he’ll be back.”

Elliott will miss at least the next four games and, in all likelihood, the next six pending the result of a Dec. 1 appeal hearing in front of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If he doesn’t win a preliminary injunction, he is out until Dec. 24 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Lawrence and Irving said they passed the time working out, staying in shape. Irving credits a foray into boxing helping him improve his conditioning upon his return.

“I knew what I had to do,” Irving said. “I knew that now, more than ever, I needed to be in even better shape. I couldn’t come back out of shape. I had to come back and make an impression.”

Irving had more advice for Elliott.

“Stay in shape,” he said. “Stay low. Stay out of trouble.”

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Five games into the season, DeMarcus Lawrence has a career-high 8.5 sacks, which leads the NFL.

He’s picked the right time to have his best season, considering he is to be a free agent in 2018, but he is not worried about contract talks at the moment.

“We’ll talk about that when the time comes,” Lawrence said. “I ain’t in no rush. I’ll just keep racking up my numbers and we just have to get the job done as a team. If the team wins, we all win. That’s the main thing.”

Lawrence is looking at potentially being one of the most sought-after free agents on the open market. He doesn’t turn 26 until next April, however, he has had two back surgeries in the past two years. The Cowboys could put the franchise or transition tag on him to keep him off the market next March. They have a history of re-signing their own players before they can test free agency, but as of now there have not been meaningful discussions.

“I’d love to be a Cowboy for the rest of my life,” Lawrence said. “Like I said, that contract talk, I ain’t worried about that. I’m worried about getting my job done and making sure we come out with the W.”

Lawrence had eight sacks in 2015. He had just one sack in nine games last season because of a four-game suspension to start the season and a back that required another surgery. He is healthy now and the proof is in his production.

He is looking at becoming the first Cowboys pass-rusher with double-digit sacks since Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013. Hatcher left the Cowboys for a free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins after that season.

“Nothing changes at all,” Lawrence said of his expectations. “It’s still the same tempo, same mindset. You just can’t want to be great for five games. You’ve got to want to be great for the rest of your life. That’s what coach preaches. We can be a helluva defense and a helluva D-line, but it’s not just one of us. It’s on all of us. I know I’m not going to let my guys down, trying to be selfish or going out thinking sacks.”

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The goal coming into the season for the Dallas Cowboys’ defense was to create 40 takeaways.

Never mind that no team has reached that figure since 2012 when the Chicago Bears (44) and New England Patriots (41); the Cowboys were aiming high.

Through five games, they have three takeaways, putting them on pace for 10 on the season.

“The biggest thing we want to do is just keep focusing on what we need to do to get those takeaways and how we can coach it better, how we can execute it better,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We focus on that each and every day, and obviously takeaways are a big part of being a successful defense. We’ve done a good job of that in the past, and it really helps our football team. Obviously, by nature you’re eliminating an opportunity for one of their eight, 10, 12 drives in the game. You’re taking one of them away, and you’re giving your offense hopefully a favorable opportunity. We place a great premium on that, and we’ll continue try to do better at it.”

During the portion of practice open to the media on Thursday, defensive backs and linebackers went through drills designed to simulate interceptions and forcing fumbles.

But what if all the drills in the world don’t lead to more takeaways?

“You can continue to coach it differently in practice, you can address it in the meeting room with tape, you can give other guys opportunities to do some of the things the guys on the field at the time aren’t doing,” Garrett said. “You evaluate everything. How you coach, how you play and we’re going to continue to place a premium on it because it makes a big difference in winning and losing in this league, and it has for a long time.”

The Cowboys’ defense has gone 213 snaps without a takeaway. Late in the third quarter of their 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis intercepted Trevor Siemian. There have been 213 offensive plays since that takeaway by the Cowboys’ opponents without a turnover.

“Can’t think of it now,” Lewis said. “Just got to try and go get them right now.”

“It’s one of our main points,” safety Byron Jones said. “It’s hard to win the old-fashioned way and just play good defense the entire time. You’ve got to take the ball away. You’ve got to make a splash play.”

The Cowboys have had what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli calls “missed opps,” but not even enough of those. They missed a chance at a fumble by Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. They have had a couple of potential interceptions fall incomplete.

“Once one comes, you hope there is more to come, that there’s more to follow,” Jones said. “But we’ve got to get one first. We’ve got to get one.”