Free agency creeps closer, but for Carl Lawson, a franchise tag might end his first trip on the free market. The Cincinnati Bengals have a need for pass rushers and can’t afford to lose their current best edge weapon. While both parties might prefer a long-term deal, the Bengals might not be willing to overpay to keep him in town. For now, it seems the two are headed for negotiations following the franchise tag for Lawson. The team has many needs to address in free agency but investing in Lawson is a big part of a potentially successful off-season. The off-season priority is helping Joe Burrow, but having Lawson fits that mold.
Cincinnati Bengals Might Need To Franchise Tag Carl Lawson To Guarantee a Return
While Carl Lawson might have hopes to play the free-agent market, it’s making a lot of sense for the Bengals to end that process before it starts. For a team in the midst of a building process, the 25-year-old Lawson is too good of a fit to let walk away. While they could land another premium edge rusher in free agency, Lawson’s fit with Lou Anarumo’s defense scheme makes him the ideal target. A late-night tweet from the rising defensive end might indicate that the Bengals’ front office already alerted him that the franchise tag was on the way.
Don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted but it is indeed wild 🤣
— carl lawson (@carllawson55) February 19, 2021
For now, whether the tweet has any tie to the tag is up to one’s own interpretation. If the team does decide to hand Carl Lawson a franchise tag, it’ll be a one-year and roughly $15.9 million for the young end. The team could still work out a long-term extension with Lawson after handing him the tag. However, Lawson continues to make posts about his accomplishments, hinting he was interested in at least testing the open market.
Lawson’s path has been jagged since joining the NFL. He led all rookies with 8.5 sacks in 2017 and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. The following season, he played in just seven games, recording six tackles and one sack before suffering a season-ending injury. Granted, Lawson hasn’t been quite as productive since his rookie season. He might be better if the defensive front is better. During his rookie season, he played alongside prime versions of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Adding stronger pieces around Lawson could very well help his production, though D.J. Reader‘s return to action will help.
Price Tag Worth It for Bengals, as Lawson Rises as the Pressure King
Paying Carl Lawson his franchise tag sum of approximately $15.9 million might seem hefty. However, it might not be that much different than what Lawson would get on the open market. One projection from Pro Football Focus tabbed Lawson with a deal that would bring the edge rusher $14 million per season. Currently, Joey Bosa is the highest-earning defensive end in football, making $27 million for the Los Angeles Chargers. Lawson’s $15.9 million would make him the ninth-highest paid edge in football next season before any other deals are completed.
For some, paying Lawson to be the ninth-highest paid edge rusher after recording just 5.5 sacks a season ago might be confusing. For the talented end, sack totals don’t do justice to his body of work. Last season, Lawson contributed 27 quarterback knock-downs, which ranked first in the NFL. He also finished fifth in pressures with 44 on the season, putting him in elite company. While Lawson might not be finishing enough of his pressures, it’s worth noting that many of the sack leaders played on teams that had a lead in the fourth quarter, when opposing teams start chucking the ball to save their game. If the Bengals can turn it around this off-season, Lawson should get more opportunities at the quarterback in 2021.
Health Plays a Big Role in Lawson’s Story
No one knows Carl Lawson’s health situation better than the Cincinnati Bengals at this point. It was a big reason the accomplished pass rusher fell to the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Lawson has suffered two ACL tears, once as a sophomore at Auburn University in 2014 and then again during his sophomore season in 2018 with the Bengals. This explains why the team didn’t already offer Lawson a sizable extension in the prior off-season. Playing all 16 games during the 2020 season, his health is trending in the right direction. While he’ll need to put more fully-healthy seasons together, Lawson seems to be headed down the right track with the Cincinnati Bengals organization. Another healthy year in 2021 could easily lead to a boom in production for Lawson. Especially as key teammates get healthy, it should greatly help Lawson make an impact.
Even on a Franchise Tag, Carl Lawson Gets a Huge Pay Raise
While many players clamor for their free-agent contract with loads of guaranteed money, Lawson seems like someone who will be happy to get a big pay raise. While the potential franchise tag for Lawson is just a year, $15.9 million pays more cash than the first four seasons of his career combined. Further, as long as his production continues in 2021, he’ll be due for another trip to the market in 2021. Considering his injury history and humble background, Lawson is the kind of person who won’t feel insulted by the tag. The franchise tag window opens on Feb. 23 and closes on Mar. 9. The Bengals might try to work out a deal with Lawson until the window closes, but he seems likely to be handed a tag if they don’t reach a long-term deal sooner rather than later.
It’ll be interesting to watch as Lawson works on a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. The team maintains a history of retaining its key players on long-term deals. While it’s a new era of the Bengals, Mike Brown remains the team’s guiding force in negotiations. Lawson remains one of the more underrated players in the league today, but he’s a welcome asset in Cincinnati. Granted, a deal might mean the end of William Jackson III‘s time in Cincinnati. Regardless, Lawson is a motor for their defense and they might be in big trouble without his presence next season.
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