CINCINNATI — The Bengals are going to be busy this offseason. They have 28 players set to hit free agency, including key pieces like cornerback William Jackson III and defensive end Carl Lawson.
The organization is expected to make Lawson their top priority over the next few weeks. Signing the 25-year-old edge rusher to a long-term deal is high on their list of offseason goals.
If they're unable to strike a deal, the Bengals are willing to place the franchise tag on Lawson, league sources told AllBengals.
Lawson was far and away Cincinnati's best pass rusher in 2020. The organization knows they need to hang onto the former fourth-round pick if they're going to improve in the trenches next season.
Lawson appeared in all 16 games in 2020, finishing with 36 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a career-high 32 quarterback hits. He was seventh in the NFL in sacks created (10.5) according to Next Gen Stats.
The franchise tag for a defensive end is expected to be anywhere from $15.85 million to $16.29 million. It's dependent on the 2021 salary cap, which will likely be somewhere between $180-$185 million.
Signing Lawson to an extension would be ideal for both parties. The Bengals will enter the offseason with anywhere from $40-45 million in cap space. They can free up another $20 million in room by moving on from a few veteran players. That would allow them to address the offensive line and other key areas in free agency, including potentially keeping Jackson.
Lawson's cap hit on the franchise tag would be more ($15.85-$16.29 million) than it would be if he signed a long-term deal. A multi-year contract would allow the Bengals to keep his cap number low in 2021 so the organization could keep as much flexibility as possible.
The Bengals aren't expected to tag Lawson in the coming days. They're still hoping to agree to a long-term deal. The tag window runs from today, Feb. 23, through March 9.
Regardless, the Bengals have the assets to be aggressive in free agency. Keeping Lawson around is one of their top priorities and barring a last minute change of heart, he'll be back in Cincinnati next season.
Will he be playing on the franchise tag in 2021 or will he have a new multi-year contract?
That's a question we'll get the answer to over the next few weeks.
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