Carl Lawson, NY Jets, Salary, Contract, Cut, Stats
Carl Lawson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Carl Lawson’s contract is escapable for the New York Jets in 2023

One of the New York Jets‘ biggest decisions of the 2023 offseason will be whether or not they elect to keep Carl Lawson.

In March 2021, New York signed Lawson to a three-year, $45 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. The hope was that Lawson could be an elite pass rusher off the edge in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s 4-3 scheme.

Sacks were never the basis of Lawson’s game, as he only had 20 sacks in 51 games with the Bengals (about 6.7 sacks per 17 games). Lawson was brought in to do one thing: be a pressure machine.

When the Jets signed Lawson, he was coming off an outstanding 2020 season with the Bengals in which he ranked fourth among edge rushers with 64 pressures. His efficiency was also stellar, as he ranked sixth out of 91 qualified edge rushers with a 14.6% pressure rate.

Unfortunately, in August 2021, Lawson suffered an Achilles tear during a joint practice in Green Bay, ending his first season with the Jets.

Lawson returned in 2022 and played all 17 games for the Jets in his age-27 season. He had his moments, but ultimately, Lawson did not look like the same player.

While Lawson recorded 7.0 sacks in 2022, he did not win his pass-rush reps or create pressure nearly as frequently as he did in Cincinnati. Lawson ranked just 28th among edge rushers with 49 pressures.

From an efficiency perspective, Lawson only performed at around a league-average level for a starting edge rusher. His pressure rate of 11.3% ranked 38th out of 83 qualified edge rushers (min. 250 pass-rush snaps), placing him at the 55th percentile among that group. For reference, the league average pressure rate for edge rushers in 2022 was 10.8%.

Lawson’s 11.3% pressure rate is a career-low. He never went below 13.1% in any of his four seasons with the Bengals.

Over the course of his tenure with Cincinnati, Lawson owned a career pressure rate of 14.3%. That was the fourth-best pressure rate among all NFL edge rushers (min. 500 pass-rush snaps) over the four-year span from 2017 to 2020:

  1. Nick Bosa (15.9%)
  2. Von Miller (15.4%)
  3. Joey Bosa (15.0%)
  4. Carl Lawson (14.3%)

The Lawson we saw in 2022 was a far cry from the Lawson that Joe Douglas thought he signed. That’s not to say Lawson was bad. He was average. But the Jets signed him to be elite.

Lawson’s run defense is another factor that must be taken into account. He has never been a good run defender in his career and that continued in 2022. Lawson only had 10 run stops all season and ranked 70th out of 89 qualified edge rushers with a run-stop rate of 4.6%. Additionally, Lawson had a missed tackle rate of 17.4% against the run, which ranked 15th-worst at the position.

New York knew Lawson would provide lackluster run defense. But he was supposed to offset that with top-10 pass-rushing. Instead, his pass-rushing was average in 2022. When you combine average pass-rushing with poor run defense, you get a player who is below-average overall.

An interesting wrinkle in this situation was added to the mix a few days after the 2022 season ended. Connor Hughes reported that Lawson had a second surgery on his Achilles shortly after the 2021 season ended. This had not previously been made public.

It is certainly possible that Lawson was still working his way back to 100% during the 2022 season and could return to peak form in 2023. Maybe the Jets decide to keep Lawson and bet that he will improve in 2023 with another year of recovery.

However, Lawson’s injury history makes it tough to be fully confident that a turnaround will happen. Lawson already suffered two ACL tears (one in college and one in the NFL) prior to his Achilles injury. Perhaps the injuries are starting to add up. Even if that is not the case, his propensity for injuries makes it risky to bet on him.

While the new report of Lawson’s second surgery serves as a reasonable explanation for Lawson’s disappointing 2022 season, there are also pieces of the puzzle that only add to the disappointment of his production.

One big concern I had with Lawson’s 2022 season was how frequently he failed to maximize advantageous matchups. Lawson lucked into facing a bunch of backup and rookie left tackles and rarely dominated those mismatches. The Jets faced six backup left tackles in 2022, and in two other games, they faced a rookie left tackle. That’s nearly half of Lawson’s games against a backup or a rookie.

In 2023, Lawson will probably not be as lucky when it comes to his schedule of opposing left tackles. The increased difficulty of his schedule could cancel out the improvement that may come as a result of his distancing from the Achilles tear.

Lawson’s contract can be easily escaped in the 2023 offseason. If the Jets release Lawson, they would net $15 million in cap savings while eating just $333K in dead money. Lawson will have a $15.3 million cap hit in 2023 if he is kept.

It would be hard to justify keeping Lawson at that price tag considering his production this past season. Perhaps they can agree upon a restructured deal to bring the number down.

However, I would argue that simply releasing Lawson is the best move, and this is the key reason why: The Jets have a strong pipeline at the EDGE position.

It’s not as if releasing Lawson would leave New York scrambling to use the savings on a replacement who might not be any better. There are talented young players in the building who are ready to take Lawson’s place at an affordable cost.

In the 2022 draft, New York used a first-round pick on Jermaine Johnson and a fourth-round pick on Micheal Clemons. Both rookie edge rushers played key roles in the Jets’ defensive line rotation throughout 2022 and showed the potential to become solid starters if they can progress in the future.

Bryce Huff is another part of the pipeline. Though Huff’s rookie contract expires after the 2022 season, he is a restricted free agent, so the Jets maintain control of his future.

The Jets should bring Huff back and have him take Lawson’s spot as the starting edge rusher whose primary job is to win in the passing game. In 2022, Huff was everything the Jets hoped Lawson would be. Huff had the best pressure rate of any edge rusher in the NFL (20.8%), showing incredible pass-rushing potential in his situational role.

All things considered, I think releasing Lawson would be the right move for New York. As a team that is low on cap space (they are only projected to have $8.3 million in space, per Spotrac), the Jets cannot pass up on the opportunity to clear $15 million for releasing a below-average starter at a position where they have plenty of intriguing young pieces ready to step up.

Restructuring Lawson is certainly on the table if he is willing to agree to a reasonable deal, but considering the Jets have more important needs at various other positions, I would just take the savings and move on.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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mlesko73
mlesko73
20 days ago

Cut him, the upside financially is too great to ignore, and his performance, especially against the run was less than adequate.
My concerns w/ the DE’s in general is that they seem to be Left or Right exclusive.
The best pass rushers in this league, Watt, Bosa, Parsons, move from one side to the other and even inside. I’m not sure whether we chose to not have our guys move or they can’t. Can JJ play left DE, can Huff, and vice versa for Clemons?
The other thing is that the Wide Nine scheme makes run defense a difficult proposition for a DE. I wish we’d ditch it. It also puts incredible pressure on our interior linemen to be the sole run stoppers among linemen. Our perimeter D was atrocious at times this year too, bc wide nine DE’s are always crashing. I know the LB’s have a lot to do w/ this, but I still would like to see us run a more conventional 4-3.

Jim G
Jim G
20 days ago

I’m inclined to agree that cutting Lawson is the best solution. The Jets might as well find out what they have in their youth movement at QB rushers, including inside rushers.

The only hesitation I have is the possibility that Lawson’s presence may have allowed Quinnen to become the massive disrupter he was this season. If he leaves, Quinnen will be the focus of opponents’ attention.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
20 days ago

Was there any improvement in Lawson’s numbers in the 2nd half of the year? That might shed some light on whether it was the injury or not.

Also, what were JJ and Clemons numbers on pressure and run stops?

BigJetsFan1
BigJetsFan1
21 days ago

Michael, I have a question. Huff is amazing. We don’t have a lot of money and we need a legit QB. Woody said he is going to spend. What does it fully mean that Huff is a RFA? Do we have to match any teams offer or we get a draft pick? What is the highest draft pick we can get?

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
21 days ago

I think it’s a no brainer. If the Jeta had significant cap room maybe a re-structure works but one missed year and one bad year.
The article saved me some typing in listing his replacements. A cheap vet could be brought in but Huff has experience himself and was under-used.
The offensive line is a mess and we have to look at Bechton as a bonus if he can play and start but Joe D can’t go into 2023 with that expectation. Fool me once and twice is more than enough
. AVT will be a star and McGovern at the right price is acceptable..Bechton would be wonderful but as a bonus. Herbig is a nice player and hopefully Mitchell has grown a bit. Fant finished on the IL so if we get him cheap he’s a good backup.
Thier first round pick should be O-line. We need at least two who can be counted on. Maybe thier first pick and a free agent. Linebackers and safeties follow and obviously who is the QB.
To get back to the article, Lawson $15m is much better spent elsewhere.
Bringing up what will be a big story, I absolutely love the Williams bros Quinnen and Quincy who is under-rated.
I’d really like to see one more dominant year out of Quinnen before we give him the $100m+ deal but that will probably cause problems.
Ik I’m turning this comment into an article but one more thing since I’ve been to sick about the Jets ply to comment lately. It’s tangentially
related to Lawson.
We had a ton of pass rushers last year and allowing rest to the starters allowed Saleh to consistently use the wide nine defense.
We all saw how many times 3rd downs…even 3rd and 13s had me holding my breath.
Getting better at LB and safety should stuff the run better and keep screen passes and WR screens from going for 40 yards. In order, I want a QB who can keep the O going…some ability to run but most importantly hitting receivers in stride. A line that is at least average and the end level of the D tighten up.
If we can fit a partner star WR to pair with Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall coming back without any of his quickness sucked out by the injury.
I may be hoping for too much but anyway we get to the playoffs with a good chance to win game one.

Jets71
Jets71
21 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

I can’t deal with McGovern any longer. He gets pushed around, isn’t a great run blocker (I don’t care what the stats say), and isn’t the OL leader the line needs. They need a guy who can sort things out, help the others pick up blitzes and stunts and I just don’t see it with him. They need an upgrade at center. I think Becton can been seen as a starting LT. I know he’s been injured but he didn’t have injury history at Louisville, and I see his problems stemming from lack of maturity, which maybe he’s got now.

Jets71
Jets71
21 days ago

Based on Woody’s comments today about the QB path they are considering, I think they will cut him. I would like to have him but just can’t keep him at that cost, especially with Q needing a new deal. I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing my soap box but the D is getting off way to easy for the late season troubles. Yes, the offense was horrible but I think that’s only deflecting some defensive issues that MUST be addressed. Clearly there was “something” missing on D late in the season too. Just take a look at the rate at which they got off the field (or lack of it) and lack of turnovers.

I think JJ is ready for more, Huff provides the burst they need and Clemmons certainly appears to be ready for a larger role. They need to tweak this DL. The DT spot needs work and will need to replace Lawson, Rankins, and Curry. I know this is a Lawson article but I’ve got my eyes on Vonn Bell, they can overhaul the safety position too!

Noam
Noam
21 days ago

Both Lawson and Saleh acknowledged during the season that Lawson was not fully healthy and was lacking a gear. Likely, he will not be fully recovered until 2023. Will he be the dominant player he was before the injury? Maybe not, but he should be better than this year, which was still petty good, and be worth the contract. The downside is the risk as Michael points out he has had a lot of injuries and even if he stays healthy he might never be the player he was, The upside is is he reverts to 2021 training camp form he could be one of the best in the game. It is a gamble id we keep him, cut him or either way. JD and the FO have a lot more info on his health and what they expect for 2023 and I trust they will make the best decision.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
21 days ago
Reply to  Noam

If we had more cap room or less needs to fill I might agree. We have others that can fill his spot. Of he comes back on a deal that pushes the cap hit a couple years it might be worth it.
If not, that $15m can be better used.

dudizt
dudizt
21 days ago

I am for the restructure option first. I get he wasn’t great but DEs usually take 3 years from college to develop so to depend on Johnson and Clemons to step up in such a crucial year is risky. And I agree huff needs more snaps too.

My solution assuming a reasonable restructure is possible, would be let Curry walk and move move JFM inside ( I know we’ve been preaching for years) to free snaps up for Huff, Clemons, and JJ. Q is the only DT under contract next year, so maybe moving JFM inside is more realistic. Side note, hope they can bring Rankins back as well. Seems he likes it here so maybe can get a discounted deal.

Freedom1789
Freedom1789
21 days ago

I have perhaps a larger than most cut list, but he is #1. As you state, too much money for too little performance and at least 3 players who deserve a larger role so I don’t even want him on a restructured deal. When explosiveness is the heart of your game (multiple achilles injuries are a red-flag for future performance improvement).

Jets71
Jets71
21 days ago
Reply to  Freedom1789

I’d love to see your list?

Freedom1789
Freedom1789
18 days ago
Reply to  Jets71

Lawson 15.4
Mosely 6.57 (S/B able to trade)
Tomlinson 3.1 (post June 1)
Whitehead 7.25
Uzomah 1.0 (post June S/B able to trade but might have to take -1 cap hit)
Berrios 5.0
A Davis 1.28

Bubble
C Davis 10.5
J Hardee 2.3 (If I need more money)