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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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When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, nothing is simple.One must read between the lines when deciphering just what the Cowboys might do.

Without question, Dez Bryant’s future is the biggest question facing the Cowboys in 2018. Yes, Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is set to be a free agent, but the Cowboys know he will be in their lineup one way or another because of the franchise tag. Yes, they would like to sign Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin to an extension, but they know they have him under contract for 2018 thanks to the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Yes, defensive lineman David Irving is set to be a restricted free agent, but the Cowboys will likely put a second-round tag on him and either match a deal if one comes from another team or accept a second-round pick in return.

With Bryant, nothing is certain.

On Monday, executive vice president Stephen Jones went on the team’s “Hangin’ with the Boys” podcast and seemed to set up the Cowboys’ offseason position with Bryant. Since signing his five-year, $70 million deal after the 2014 season, he has not been the same receiver. This past season he played in every game and caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns.

“We pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s aware of it as anybody when he talks to Jerry and myself,” Stephen Jones said. “He knows when you get paid that kind of money, there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity. Those are all things that we have to look at as a team, as an organization, when we start to put our team together for next year.”

Bryant is set to make $12.5 million in 2018. He has a $16.5 million cap figure. The Cowboys can release him and save $8 million. They can designate him a post-June 1 cut and save $12 million and he will count $4 million against the 2019 cap.

The Cowboys could ask Bryant to take a pay cut, but the last time they faced a dicey contractual situation with one of their all-time greats, DeMarcus Ware, they did not make him an offer because they did not want to hurt him with a lowball contract. They eventually cut Ware and he signed with the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl in his second season there.

Also on the podcast, Stephen Jones said that Bryant’s sideline outbursts are a distraction. Over the years, Jason Garrett has defended Bryant’s actions as a sign of passion. On Wednesday at the Senior Bowl, Stephen Jones was asked to clarify what he meant.

“Well, Dez is an emotional guy. He plays with emotion. That’s part of his game,” Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “We work with him constantly on trying to really channel his energy in positive ways. I just think when he has those types of emotional roller coasters, I think at the end of the day he needs to understand that it does affect more than just Dez. He loves his teammates. He obviously has made so many great plays for us over the years but when you start to look at the things that we need to be better at, that’s one of them. I think he needs to understand that it’s not something that’s just affecting him, it does affect his teammates.”

On Tuesday from the Senior Bowl, Jerry Jones played something of the good cop when he was asked if Bryant was still a Dak Prescott-friendly receiver as the Cowboys look to direct their offense around their third-year quarterback’s talents.

“Well again, I’ve said this and I’m so proud of Dez and proud of where he is today, with us,” Jerry Jones said. “I believe Dez to have a lot of gas in the tank. I think we need to improve across the board with our receivers, and I think we will. In doing so, it should be an opportunity for Dez.”

Does he expect Bryant to be on the team?

“Well, everyone we’ve got under contract right now — and I’m not addressing anyone — but everyone we’ve got under contract and have years left on their contract, I expect to be with the team,” Jerry Jones said.

And this is where you can read between the lines. If Bryant was a dead-set lock to be on the roster in 2018, Jerry Jones could have just said yes. He was direct in some of his answers about the coaching staff. Here he left the door open with the “expect to.”

Nothing that has been said this week is new to Bryant. He addressed his situation late in the regular season. He knows the NFL business. And he said he would not take a pay cut if asked. He has not been asked yet.

Like Ware, he might not be asked either.

The door for Bryant’s departure seems to be open.

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As the Dallas Cowboys look to fill out their coaching staff, they know they will not have a vacancy on their personnel staff.

Will McClay, the vice president of player personnel, said Wednesday that he has officially declined a chance to interview for the Houston Texans’ general manager job. When reports surfaced last weekend that McClay had turned down the chance to speak with Houston, he said he had not been contacted by any representatives of the team.

McClay’s decision to remain in Dallas is the best news the Cowboys have had in the early offseason. He has run the team’s personnel department since 2014 and has played the lead in drafting four Pro Bowlers: Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. The Cowboys have also added 12 starters or key contributors through the draft during that time, in addition to right tackle La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent.

McClay has received interest from a number of teams in recent years, including the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, but has opted to remain with the Cowboys, who have given McClay a bigger title and added responsibility.

The Texans’ job had some interest for McClay, a Houston native and Rice graduate. He has family in the city and he would not be far from his son. Plus, the Texans have a decent roster, especially with the eventual return to health of J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson, and a good cap situation to be a contender in the AFC.

McClay has been with the Cowboys since 2002, working his way up from a pro scout. While Jerry Jones maintains the general manager role and Stephen Jones is the director of player personnel, they lean heavily on McClay in the draft process and throughout the season.

He has helped bring stability to the draft room with a program designed to keep the scouts and coaches on the same page.

One day he could have the chance to run his own team, but for now McClay is betting on himself and betting on the Cowboys.c

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Dallas Cowboys right guard Zack Martin is recovering from right elbow surgery that will keep him out of the upcoming Pro Bowl but not from the start of the offseason program.

The surgery was a considered a cleanup and nothing too serious. Martin did not miss a game in 2017 and has not missed a game in his career.

The Cowboys hope to pick up talks on a long-term deal for Martin, who has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons, early in the offseason. He is set to make $9.3 million in 2018 under the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but the Cowboys would like to lock him up to a deal that takes him well into the future. Martin has also expressed a desire to remain with the Cowboys.

Left tackle Tyron Smith is also expected to miss the Pro Bowl after he ended the season on injured reserve. He was slowed by back, hip and groin injuries but was placed on injured reserve the final week of the season because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee suffered against the Oakland Raiders.

At the end of the season, coach Jason Garrett said the hope is Smith could avoid surgery. Smith missed three games and most of a fourth because of injuries after missing two games in 2016.

“He has had some different things over the last couple of years that he’s dealt with,” Garrett said the day after the season ended. “We don’t necessarily see it as a trend. He’s still a young player. He’s played a lot of snaps, but physically he seems to be in good shape beyond the specific injuries that he’s had.”

Without Martin and Smith, center Travis Frederick would be the lone Cowboys’ representative on the offensive line at the Pro Bowl. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 14.5 sacks, was also picked for the all-star game.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins had left foot surgery to help fix an issue that bothered him from the sixth game of the season on. Collins did not miss a game and moved to defensive tackle when the Cowboys put Stephen Paea on injured reserve. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks and 22 tackles.

Collins had similar surgery on his right foot prior to his rookie season and was limited into training camp, but he managed to start 14 of 16 games and finish with five sacks. The Cowboys do not expect him to have any issues recovering from this surgery.

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With roughly 1,000 snaps on both sides of the ball, seasons can turn on a handful of plays.

That was certainly the case for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. The fall from their 13-3 finish in 2016 to their 9-7 record this season seems precipitous, but in reality they are not that disparate.

Lost amid the 13-3 finish were the plays that tipped the season in their favor, like the overtime win against the Philadelphia Eagles or the late-game fumble recovery at the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys made the necessary plays — big and small — to win those games.

In 2017, they didn’t — and as a result have to watch the playoffs go on without them.

Four of the Cowboys’ seven losses in 2017 were by 20 or more points. But even in those games there were moments in which the results could have flipped.

In the 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 2, DeMarcus Lawrence was penalized for leverage on a field goal attempt. The Broncos turned that penalty into a touchdown and 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Perhaps if there is no penalty, the Cowboys rally from that moment.

In the 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys moved down the field on their opening drive of the second half mostly on the legs of Alfred Morris. After an 11-yard run to the Atlanta 12-yard line, the Cowboys went into shotgun on first-and-10 and Dak Prescott was sacked for a 7-yard loss by Adrian Clayborn. The next play lost 2 yards. The third-down play gained just 1 yard and Mike Nugent’s 38-yard field goal attempt hit the upright. Had the Cowboys stood by their powerful run game, knowing fill-in left tackle Chaz Green could not block Clayborn, maybe they grab a touchdown in that situation and make the score 17-14.

In those defeats, however, the Cowboys were listless and not competitive for large portions of the games.

But what about the three losses by less than 10 points?

Three plays stand out:

Los Angeles Rams

The Cowboys offense was rolling. They opened with a field goal and two touchdowns on their first three drives for a 17-6 lead, at which point they had nearly 200 yards of offense. The defense forced a Rams punt and the Cowboys could have taken the game by the throat with another score on their fourth drive of the game.

Instead, Ryan Switzer fumbled the punt and the Rams took over at the Dallas 18. The Rams scored a touchdown five plays later. The momentum had swung. The Cowboys led 24-16 at the half, but they never had the same control of the game. The Rams scored on seven of their last nine possessions in a 35-30 win.

Green Bay Packers

Trailing 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, Prescott put the Cowboys in position to win late against the Packers, just like he did in the divisional round of the playoffs last January. The Cowboys needed a replay review to convert a fourth-and-1 run for a first down by Ezekiel Elliott to the Packers’ 19, but Elliott then picked up 8 yards on first down.

The Cowboys had the Packers on their heels. Although they needed a touchdown, they also knew they could not leave Aaron Rodgers much time on the clock. On second-and-2, Prescott threw a fade to Dez Bryant in the end zone that fell incomplete. Instead of running the ball and chewing up more time, only six seconds ran off the clock. On the next play, Prescott used the zone-read to fool the Green Bay defense for a go-ahead touchdown. As great as that was, Rodgers still had 1:13 to pull off the comeback, which he did, throwing a touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining for a 35-31 win.

If the Cowboys had run the ball on second down, maybe they score there and the point is moot. But they threw it, and the worst-case scenario turned true.

Seattle Seahawks

Needing a win to remain alive in the playoffs, the Cowboys held a 6-0 lead in the second quarter against Seattle, which also needed a win to keep its postseason hopes alive. The Cowboys defense was badly flustering quarterback Russell Wilson, with Lawrence picking up a sack of 22 yards that forced a Seahawks punt from their own 8.

The Cowboys should have had terrific field position following the punt, but Kyle Wilber was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the return. Instead of having the ball at the Dallas 45, the Cowboys had it at their 35.

On first down, Bryant, who was brooding because of a lack of action his way early in the game, caught a 7-yard hitch from Prescott, but Byron Maxwell punched the ball free and K.J. Wright recovered. Five plays later, the Seahawks scored a touchdown for a 7-6 lead despite being thoroughly outplayed.

Prescott was intercepted twice in the second half, including one that was returned for a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter, but the Bryant fumble started the downward trend in the Cowboys’ 21-12 loss.

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David Irving is the ultimate tease.

In eight games, Irving’s seven sacks were second on the defense to DeMarcus Lawrence’s 14.5. He had 19 quarterback pressures. The coaches credited him with 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, six pass deflections and a forced fumble.

“I keep thinking, ‘What if I had played all of the games?’” Irving said. “I probably could’ve got 15, 16, maybe more [sacks]. So I just got to come back next year, stay the hell out of trouble, hopefully don’t get injured and see what I can do next year.”

Irving missed the first four games last season because of a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He missed the final four games because of a concussion. There is nothing he could do to avoid the latter, but he could have done everything differently to avoid the former.

In 2016, Irving had four sacks, five tackles for loss, 26 quarterback pressures, five pass deflections and four forced fumbles, including three in one game. By the end of the season, he was the Cowboys’ best defensive lineman.

There are just not many people on the earth at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds who can do the things Irving can do on a football field.

When he came back from his suspension, he played mostly defensive end, but he shifted inside when the Cowboys moved Maliek Collins to nose tackle.

“Honestly, it doesn’t make any difference; put me at nose guard, left end, right end, three-technique, it really doesn’t matter,” Irving said. “Wherever I can make plays, wherever I can help the team. I’m capable of playing any position on the line, so wherever the coaches need me, wherever my team needs me.”

As for his health, Irving said he is “progressing slowly but surely.” The headaches are less frequent, and he hopes to be working out fully in a few weeks.

“It’s weird, man,” he said. “You’ve just got to rest up. Some days you have good days. Some days you have bad days, but the bad days are not coming as much.”

Consistency has been Irving’s issue, on and off the field. His talent will give him chances others won’t get, but he confounds coaches at times. He did not practice in part of the offseason for reasons not really known. He did not show up for the first reporting day of training camp at The Star before the Cowboys went to Oxnard, California.

Irving’s future depends on becoming more reliable. He is set to be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys are likely to give him the second-round tender in hopes that 2018 becomes the year he puts it all together, on and off the field.

Had Irving already showed he was responsible, the Cowboys might have opted for a long-term deal with a bigger financial commitment.

As he addressed the media Monday, Irving on multiple occasions talked about staying out of trouble, which is likely something he heard from the coaches in his exit interviews.

“You’ve got to be mature,” Irving said. “You have to be an adult. You have to be responsible. When you’ve got something to lose, it’s much easier to stay out of trouble. I’m definitely going to be staying out of trouble.”

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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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Last offseason the stated goal of Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was to sign All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to a contract extension, but that never came about.As the Cowboys look to an offseason that starts the day after Sunday’s finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, the priority remains to sign Martin to a long-term deal. A source said the discussions should happen a lot sooner than last year when they did not happen much until training camp.

The Cowboys and Martin’s agents, Tom Condon and R.J. Gonser, held talks last offseason and into training camp but the discussions never really progressed very far. When the season started Martin wanted the negotiations to end so he could focus on the field.

“I think we had good talks,” Martin said. “It was just at the time, I didn’t want it to linger during the season and think about it. Kind of held it and played this year so hopefully we can talk and get something done here this offseason.”

The Cowboys signed left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick to long-term extensions prior to the start of their fourth seasons. The Cowboys have the fifth-year option on Martin for 2018, which is worth $9.3 million. With DeMarcus Lawrence looking at the franchise tag and the team wanting to retain other free agents, signing Martin could be an important part of the offseason to create some salary-cap flexibility.

Martin’s deal should surpass the five-year, $60 million deal Kevin Zeitler signed with the Cleveland Browns last offseason as a free agent that included $31.5 million in guarantees. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in four seasons last week and has never missed a game.

Despite the lack of success this season, Martin has no desire to play anywhere else.

“I was lucky enough to be drafted here and I want to be here for my career,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can get something worked out.”

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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.”