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49ers free agency: Carl Lawson is the best bang-for-your-buck edge rusher available

Lawson was outstanding this past season for the Bengals and is precisely what the Niners are looking for opposite of Nick Bosa.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

If we’re operating under the assumption that Dee Ford won’t be with the San Francisco 49ers in 2021, then it’s imperative for the team to add a quality edge rusher this offseason. Adding somebody to replace what Ford was brought in to do gives the Niners the dynamic upfront that they’re looking for: Nick Bosa on one side, a quality edge rusher on the opposite side, with Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead causing havoc inside.

This free agency class is absolutely loaded with talent on the edge. Shaquil Barrett is fresh off a Super Bowl victory and has two productive seasons in a row, and is only 28. There’s Leonard Williams, who is more of a tweener/Armstead type.

Add Melvin Ingram, Bud Dupree, Matthew Judon, Trey Hendrickson, Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, and Leonard Floyd, and we’re looking at a handful of high-priced free agents who are sure to help their new teams right away.

As we know firsthand, spending big during free agency doesn’t always equate to wins or production. Some of the best offseason signings each year are signed on the second or third day of free agency after the first wave. In this case, the best bang-for-your-buck addition on the edge is Carl Lawson.

Sports Info Solutions charts total points saved, and Lawson finished 13th this past season among edge rushers. The only name listed above who finished higher than Lawson was Williams.

Lawson had 5.5 sacks for the Bengals this past season but led the NFL in QB hits and knockdowns with 42 and 27, respectively, per SIS. Only Aaron Donald and Emmanuel Ogbah finished with more total pressures than Lawson. Still, for some reason, he’s being left out of the conversation when it comes to the top edge rushers available.

How Lawson wins

Stats rarely tell the entire story. A QB can hold the ball or run into pressure, making a defender look better than he is. An offensive line could mess up a twist/stunt or not block the defender, and said defender is gifted with a sack.

I watched the last four games of the season to get an idea of how Lawson wins. A few things will jump out in the clip below:

  • The amount of ground Lawson covers during his first few steps
  • The ability to win going inside and out
  • How Lawson has a counter for every move
  • At the 30 second mark, Lawson’s hand usage is superb. Notice how he takes away the OT’s wrists/hands. When you do that, OL are helpless
  • A big-time motor/high energy player

Lawson turns 26 in June. Spotrac’s market value projects Lawson to earn $8.8 million this offseason. Based on his season stats and how Lawson finished the year, paying him under $10 million annually would be a steal. Over the Cap has Lawson’s valuation at $11.6 million per year, which feels more realistic.

On the field, Lawson has everything you want in a pass rusher. You could see in the video above how hard he plays. That type of effort is infectious and rubs off on players. If you’re Lawson, the idea of playing opposite of Bosa, knowing that you’d have 1-on-1’s for the duration of your contract, would be enticing.

Teams would chip Lawson and send extra help his way as each game went along. That would not be an option if Lawson were on the Niners. Based on everything I saw from Lawson, it’s difficult to imagine he won’t be an option for the 49ers.

Injury history

During the 2019 season, Lawson battled a hamstring injury that impacted the first half of his season. Lawson played in 12 games during the ‘19 season as he was inactive for three games with a hamstring injury. As he got healthy, Lawson’s production began to pick up during the second half of the season.

The hope, and usually the case, is that the further removed from injury Lawson is, the healthier he stays moving forward. Kyle Shanahan said that after the season, the 49ers would take into account more than ever a player’s previous injury history, given how the injury bug has bitten the Niners over the past couple of seasons. Lawson played in every game this past season.

The reward outweighs the risk

Whether it’s a draft pick or a free agent, whoever the 49ers add this offseason comes with risk. Re-signing Jason Verrett comes with a risk. Letting Jaquiski Tartt walk in free agency comes with a risk.

Lawson’s age, production, the intensity that he plays with, and how he’ll improve your defense make him worthy of the risk. There’s no such thing as low-balling an edge rusher in free agency. If the 49ers want Lawson or any other quality pass rusher, they’ll have to pay up.

Lawson is precisely what the 49ers are looking for, which is why he’s the perfect fit.