The franchise tag period for NFL teams has come and gone and the Bengals decided against using their franchise tag on Carl Lawson, their dynamic edge rusher.
There are reports that the Bengals want to get a long-term deal done with Lawson, but less than a week away from free agency, it would be illogical for him to sign any deal before testing the waters of free agency.
In his 4 year career so far, Lawson has posted 20 sacks, 81 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss, however, context is everything, he was a slow starter and only started three games in his first three years in the league and it wasn’t until 2020 that he got the opportunity to start extensively.
2020 saw Lawson put up 5.5 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, 32 QB hits and 36 total tackles. Very good numbers if not elite numbers. However, there are some players who have benefitted from some stat-padding, if you look at the true sack rate which is a stat that looks beyond the numbers and focuses in on the quality of the sack, you’ll see that Lawson has more high-quality sacks than the likes of Trey Hendrickson and Yannick Ngakoue. What we mean by high-quality sack is when a player beats a player 1-on-1 and closes the deal.
This is key for a number of reasons. Lawson is only 25 years-of-age, and with only one season of starting under his belt it’s easy to suggest that his best years are ahead of him.
His team-mates have often spoken about his work ethic, Sam Hubbard was recently quoted as saying “He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever played with, He just keeps working on his game, keeps progressing and finding every little thing you can do to be successful. It’s no surprise he’s playing great.” If you mix the talent, with work ethic, with a good coaching staff, good things happen.
An ability to win one-on-one match-ups is key in this Robert Saleh defense. This isn’t Rex Ryan and this isn’t Greg Williams, you’re not going to see exotic blitzes and the Jets sending the house and leaving rookie corners in one-on-one matchups. That’s not the way his unit works, he relies on his defensive line getting pressure and his edge players getting to the QB.
You may think the sack numbers look pretty average, and Lawson will be the first to want to pump those numbers up. However it’s sometimes about how you influence the QB, PFF had Lawson’s pass rush grading at 84.9 last year, that’s very close to elite. He rushed the passer on 437 snaps and generated pressure on 64 which is around every 6.8 snaps.
His overall pass rush ability was good for 8th overall in the league. Only behind the likes of Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa, T.J Watt and Brian Hughes, the elite guys in the league.
What you look for as well is how a player grows into his role, and if you look at the game by game statistics, Lawson got better the more he played. He finished the season off with three out of four games where his pass rush score was over 80.
I don’t think Lawson is going to cost as much as the premier edge players on the market, but he is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential. If he comes into a system where the coaches put their players in the best position to succeed, like he’d come into with this Saleh system, he would be one of the more dominant edge defenders in the league.
The Jets need an edge defender who creates pressure on the QB, we’ve needed one for years. Lawson has escaped the tag, and the Jets should take advantage.