CINCINNATI — The Bengals have a decision to make about defensive end Carl Lawson. The 25-year-old is set to become a free agent in March, following the best season of his career.
He appeared in all 16 games in 2020, finishing with 36 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a career-high 32 quarterback hits.
Lawson's sack numbers weren't great on the surface, but that had a lot to do with the pieces around him. DJ Reader and Geno Atkins both missed significant time due to injury and Sam Hubbard wasn't himself for most of the season after he hurt his elbow in Week 5 against Baltimore. Combine that with Carlos Dunlap's departure and the Bengals didn't have another legitimate pass rusher outside of Lawson.
Advanced stats show how productive he was, despite finishing tied for 48th in the NFL with 5.5 sacks.
One useful metric is sacks created, which credits a player for beating their blocker and helping cause the sack, instead of the person that actually gets the sack.
Lawson was seventh in the NFL in sacks created according to Next Gen Stats. Check out the rankings below.
Aaron Donald: 19
Myles Garrett: 16.5
T.J. Watt: 14.5
Khalil Mack: 13
Justin Houston: 12
Emmanuel Ogbah: 11
Carl Lawson: 10.5
Lawson was ahead of some top pass rushers including Brandon Graham, DeMarcus Lawrence, Yannick Ngakoue and Montez Sweat, who all finished with 10.
Cincinnati finished with an NFL worst 17 sacks in 2020. Lawson was responsible for 10.5 of them. The Bengals can't afford to let the former fourth-round pick walk in free agency.
A long-term deal may be tough to pull off, considering he'll likely ask for top of the market money, but they could franchise tag Lawson for around $17 million in 2021. Then they could decide to extend him, keep him for one more year or trade him.
The sack numbers aren't there, but he was one of the most disruptive edge rushers in the NFL.
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