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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agent Spotlight: Defensive End, Shaq Lawson

As our free agent spotlight series continues, we take a look at a potential Shaq to pair with Tampa Bay’s existing Shaq.

You can never have enough pass rushers, right? The Buccaneers have a very good one in Shaquil Barrett. He led the league in sacks last year and isn’t getting out of Tampa. Whether it’s on the franchise tag or with a long-term deal, he’ll be back in 2020. But beyond Barrett, there’s a little more uncertainty off the edge. Tampa Bay would probably be happy to simply bring back its own guys from 2019 and keep things rolling, but evaluating all options on the table is important.

So, that’s what we’ll continue to do here. As our free agent spotlight series continues and nears its end, we’ll look at another Shaq who could be a big addition for the Bucs in 2020...

SHAQ LAWSON’S CAREER THUS FAR

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

A South Carolina kid, Lawson was a four-star recruit out of high school and decided to play his college ball at Clemson. He set the freshman sack record in 2013 with four before a 4.5-sack sophomore season. But as a junior in 2015, he took off. He finished with 12.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss, boosting his draft stock in a big way.

Lawson’s All-American 2015 season led to him being selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 19th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for him, his career didn’t get off to the best start. He had shoulder surgery well before the 2016 season, landing him on the PUP list. After eventually being activated in October, he put up two sacks in 10 games (one start). His 2017 season was better, as he started 10 of the 11 games he played in and recorded four sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. However, he ended that season on injured reserve.

He played more of a reserve role in 2018, starting six of the 14 games he played, but still managed to match his 2017 sack total. Prior to the 2019 season, the Bills declined Lawson’s fifth-year option to make him an unrestricted free agent after his fourth season. And in that fourth season, he had a career year despite not starting any of the 15 games he played in. He racked up a career-high 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson is the 68th-best free agent on the market this offseason (eighth-best edge rusher).

WHY IT WORKS

With his age and the fact he has spent most of his career in a supporting/rotational role, Lawson is an intriguing free agent this offseason. He hasn’t quite gotten the chance to shine in Buffalo, which is odd considering his draft position. If given the right amount of playing time, he could develop into something special. Sound familiar at all? Of course, Shaquil Barrett was stuck in a depth role with Denver for four years before breaking out with Tampa Bay. In Lawson, maybe the Bucs could find another gem? He’d cost a little more than Barrett did last year (more on that later), but if the Bucs aren’t able to reach agreements either Jason Pierre-Paul or Carl Nassib (or even both?), perhaps Lawson could be an option to play on the other side of Barrett.

After all, Lawson put up career highs in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (13) and quarterback hits (18) in 2019 while playing just 47% of the Bills’ defensive snaps. Extrapolate those numbers over more snaps and you’re looking at top-tier production from a guy who turns just 26 years old in June. He’s played in a 4-3 for a few years now, but he does have 3-4 experience and could reasonably be expected to transition back should he come down to Tampa.

BUT...

Lawson has made it known in the past that he’s more comfortable playing as a 4-3 defensive end. Sure, the Bucs put dynamic looks out there and if anyone can make it all work, it’s Todd Bowles. But if Lawson would rather play in a 4-3, it might be hard for Tampa Bay to sell him on the fit. Plus, he didn’t seem happy about only receiving 47% of Buffalo’s defensive snaps last year. He even made a point to tell a fan on Twitter recently that he didn’t get the opportunities he needed. So, if the Bucs are intent on bringing back Pierre-Paul and/or Nassib, Lawson absolutely wouldn’t be interested in joining the team to play a rotational role similar to the one he played with the Bills.

WHAT’S THE COST?

Lawson is coming off of his rookie deal, so this is where he’s likely hoping to get paid some big money. Spotrac estimates his market value at $7.6 million per year, projecting a four-year deal worth almost $31 million for the 6-foot-3 lad. That’s not exactly top-of-the-line money for a defensive end, to be fair, but whether the Bucs would be interested in giving that to him has to depend on who all returns from the 2019 group of pass rushers, of course. As a standalone option, with the other factors eliminated, the value doesn’t seem to be all that bad for a guy who could reasonably step in and be a productive starter from day one.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

There’s a lot we don’t know, really. First of all, Tampa Bay seems interested in bringing Pierre-Paul back to pair with Barrett. A return for Nassib could be in the cards, too, which would rule out any idea of the team potentially calling Lawson. If they only brought one back, though, maybe Lawson would be a possible target to get into the rotation (assuming he’d agree to that, which does seem unlikely). But say the Bucs don’t bring Pierre-Paul or Nassib back... Would they even like the fit enough to call Lawson? If he would rather play as a 4-3 end than a 3-4 outside linebacker, that would seem to make a relationship between the two sides pretty unlikely.

MAKE THE DECISION

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

There are definitely some complications when it comes to the idea of a deal between the Bucs and Lawson. His role and scheme fit would be wrinkles to iron out in the free agency process, but those wrinkles might be worth it considering the talent that is there for the former first-round pick. Again, if anyone could work out a role and fit for Lawson, it would be Todd Bowles.

But this is a decision that we’ll leave up to you, Bucs Nation. What do you think about a potential Shaq and Shaq pairing for Tampa Bay’s defense? Be sure to vote in the poll and discuss your stance in the comments down below!

Poll

When It Comes To Shaq Lawson, What Would You Have The Buccaneers Do?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Sign Him, No Matter What
    (14 votes)
  • 32%
    Make An Offer, But Keep It Reasonable
    (62 votes)
  • 20%
    Invite Him For A Cup Of Coffee And See Where It Goes From There
    (39 votes)
  • 18%
    Call Him Up If They Have A Need After The Draft
    (36 votes)
  • 21%
    Don’t Need Him
    (42 votes)
193 votes total Vote Now
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