DeMarcus Lawrence Cowboys Aug 2021 DMN

Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence watches from the sidelines during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at AT&T Stadium in August 2021.

FRISCO — The story goes that Samson’s power came from his magnificent head of hair. Once cut, his astonishing strength was sapped.

DeMarcus Lawrence is unquestionably acquainted with this biblical tale. But he’s chosen a different path.

Call it the Reverse Samson.

The signature dreadlocks are gone. The defensive end goes into his ninth season with a new look and the drive to reclaim his status as the Cowboys’ premier pass rusher.

“Yeah, I had my fun with my dreads,” Lawrence said after the team’s organized team activities were underway. “I started growing them when I entered the NFL and they grew so fast on me they got heavy. I turned 30 this year so I’m like, ‘it’s time for me to make a grown-man change.’

“And I chopped them off.”

Fans fret over the departure of Randy Gregory in free agency. How does the Dallas defense compensate for his loss? Can free agent Dante Fowler and second-round pick Sam Williams combine to minimize his absence?

Legitimate questions. But are those the right questions? Let’s start from a different perspective.

Does the return of a healthy Lawrence have a more profound impact on the defense than the presence of Gregory?

Yes.

No excuses are being manufactured here. The Cowboys defense would have been better going forward with Lawrence and Gregory. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his unit took a hit with Gregory’s defection to Denver. Offenses had to account for Gregory every time he stepped onto the field.

But if you’re forced to make a choice on production, if you take consistency and physicality into account, Lawrence is the top choice.

Gregory had six sacks last season, a total that doesn’t fully account for his impact on games. He has 16.5 sacks for his career.

Lawrence had 14.5 sacks in one season back in 2017.

The fascination over what Gregory potentially provides is enticing.

The reality of what Lawrence delivers is more tangible. He’s a better, all-around player. He’s a foundational piece, one that missed 10 games last season with a broken fifth metatarsal after playing a full season the previous four years.

A one-two punch of Lawrence and Micah Parsons should be more destructive than the Lawrence-Gregory combination. And don’t be too quick to assign Lawrence to a support role. The veteran isn’t shy in declaring his goal for the upcoming season.

“Become the sack leader again,” said Lawrence, who finished with just three sacks last season. “I let a rookie show me up last year. ... Shoutout 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.”

This is the first offseason in five years that Lawrence hasn’t been recovering from an injury or the excessive wear and tear of playing a full season. His body feels better.

It’s impacted his ability to train.

“Yeah, I feel like I’m in better shape,” said Lawrence, who appears slimmer than he has at this stage of previous offseasons.

“I feel like this offseason has been one of the most serious ones for me, just all about being healthy and taking care of the body and doing rigorous trainings and stuff and different workouts.”

Lawrence agreed to a three-year, $40 million deal before free agency got underway. While the $30 million guarantee is more than what he had in the final years of his existing deal, he did take less money overall.

What had been a salary cap hit of $27 million this season was lowered to $14 million. Lawrence did this to fulfill his dream of finishing his NFL career where he began and to give the club more salary cap flexibility.

Critics will argue the Cowboys didn’t do enough with that flexibility. Club officials counter that money is set aside to pay players who come up through their system and to allow younger players who have been developed on their roster to rise through the ranks.

The team’s record in ‘22 will tip the scales toward which side wins that argument. But there’s already agreement on one point:

Anticipation of the strides this defense can make in its second season under Quinn.

“Being able to have a defense that you’re familiar with, it makes us, the bond more connected,” Lawrence said. “For us to come in here, understand each other’s job and position, it makes our job a little easier so we’re not starting at the bottom again.

“We’re continuing to try to grow.”

Along with Lawrence’s hair, which is shorter than it’s ever been during his Cowboys career.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking his strength has gone with it.

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