OPINION: Carl Lawson, not J.J. Watt, should be atop Bills’ pass rush wish list

Lawson will be a free agent next month after three seasons with the Bengals
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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

It is so easy to get swept up in the big name.

J.J. Watt gets fans excited. J.J. Watt sounds like the move a championship caliber team makes. J.J. Watt's name power cannot be matched when chasing free agent pass rushers.

Does that necessarily mean he is the best man for the job?

What if I told you there is a younger, cheaper, more productive option ready to hit the open market?

I give you Carl Lawson.

Not only does that name not excite you, but I'm betting you haven't even heard of him.

Lawson reminds me of when the Buffalo Bills signed safety Jordan Poyer. An under the radar starter, still young, whose stats do not jump off the page, but has good underlying numbers.

Despite having just 10.5 sacks in the last two years, Lawson has consistently got after the quarterback.

In addition to his big quarterback pressures total, Lawson is tied for fourth in the NFL with the most quarterback hits in the last two seasons. He trails only Los Angeles Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa, Green Bay Packers defensive end Za'Darius Smith, and Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt.

In fact, in the last two years, Lawson has more quarterback hits than Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison combined.

In addition, Lawson can be productive for the Bills for years and years, considering he is only 25-years-old. He is six years younger than J.J. Watt, and eight years younger than both Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison.

It'd be nice to see the Bills go for a pass rusher where the question is "how much better can he get?", instead of "how much does he have left to give?".

You might be thinking to yourself that a 25-year-old pass rusher on the open market, with some solid production, is going to command a monster contract. Lawson could get a huge deal, but Spotrac projects his market value at just $8.8 million.

It is tough to compare Lawson and Watt in terms of money, at this point.

Watt's cap hit will depend on his motivation to play for a Super Bowl contender. If he wanted to, it's completely feasible that Watt could get north of $15 million per-year in the open market.

What would a contending team like the Bills have to pay Watt? $8 million? $10 million? $15 million?

My educated guess would be that Lawson's cost will be cheaper than Watt's.

With the NFL salary cap likely coming in between $180 million and $185 million, a drop from $198 million last year, the Bills can use some extra money wherever they can find it.

If chasing Watt gets expensive, and the Bills land him, that will likely be their only big move of the offseason.

It would take some cap maneuvering, but if the Bills can sign Lawson for around $9 million per-year, they realistically could have room to do something else in the free agent market

Bills fans will likely get upset by this, but if you want to build the best pass rush possible for 2021, maybe you move on from Addison and Hughes to bring in Lawson and Watt. Buffalo would save a combined $13.5 million on their cap by releasing Hughes and Addison.

I'm guessing you're spending, at least, an additional $5 million to sign Lawson and Watt together, but I'd argue that'd be money well spent.

Lawson is a speed pass rusher, who lacks some ability in the run game. Watt is a physical pass rusher, who is one of the best run defending defensive ends in the game. It is a perfect complement.

Pulling off this very specific, and unlikely scenario would be saying goodbye to Hughes. Again, a move fans would likely hate.

His leadership in the locker room would need to be replaced, but it's time for the young corps of Bills defenders to be the leaders.

Tre'Davious White is entering Year 5, Tremaine Edmunds is entering Year 4, and Ed Oliver is entering Year 3. The Bills still have Poyer and Micah Hyde as veterans in the locker room, and Watt screams team captain.

I wouldn't be worried about the culture of the team if they moved on from Hughes.

Whether Watt, Hughes, or Addison are a part of the equation or not for the Bills in 2021, Lawson should be no matter what.

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