Defensive end DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence cashed in this off-season, signing the franchise tag the Dallas Cowboys placed on him. His $17.1 million salary puts him among the highest paid defenders in 2018. Along with the big money, there are big expectations that go further than producing individually on the field, and Lawrence is ready to embrace them.

Lawrence is fully coming to grips that he is a new leader in the Cowboys locker room. We saw this coming when he not only led the team in sacks with 14.5, but nearly the entire NFL in 2017.

His spectacular season was a central force in putting the Cowboys defensive front on league notice for the foreseeable future. Along with his 14.5 sacks, Lawrence forced four fumbles and recovered two more. He also made great improvements to his run defense, which is what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli preaches greatly in calling him a “lights out” defender. Regularly thought of as one of the worst defensive lines in the league over the past 5 years, Dallas now built and are continuing to strengthen one of the more promising units in football.

In the locker room, there are leadership voids that need to be filled. Losing veterans Jason Witten, Orlando Scandrick and Dez Bryant will not go unnoticed. Lawrence will join guys like Dak Prescott and Sean Lee in working to model the Cowboys way and abide to the standards that are expected from everyone.

There are the leaders like Dak and Lee, who go out there without saying too much and give all their energy into doing their job. Leading by example for the young guys to see how to prepare, train and ultimately handle their business on game day. But then there are the “ra-ra” teammates who yell and scream to get everyone’s motors going and provide the spark for energy.

Lawrence has a bit of both leadership types in him. At the end of the day, he’s always trying to lead by example, but has also made it clear that he is one of the biggest [expletive]-talkers on the team. No defensive lineman on the Cowboys played more snaps than Lawrence in 2017 (786). If he can continue to keep his back healthy, he will be Marinelli’s main signal caller on the front four, while Sean Lee quarterbacks the back seven. Lawrence believes he is ready for that and more in 2018.

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