Buffalo Bills, NFL Free Agency

Bills: Buffalo’s backup plan after missing out on J.J. Watt

The Buffalo Bills might have missed on J.J. Watt, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be on an edge rusher.

Well, so much for that, Buffalo Bills fans.

J.J. Watt seemed like a perfect fit for Buffalo’s staff entering 2021. Three things the soon-to-be 32-year-old wanted this offseason were a proven quarterback, a chance to win a title and a great locker room culture.

The Bills, fresh off an appearance in the AFC championship, with the rising star quarterback Josh Allen, and a front office that is beloved by the NFL, seemed to have all three.

The Arizona Cardinals, though, have money. And money talks louder.

Watt and the Cardinals agreed to principle terms on a two-year, $31 million contract Monday morning, $23 million of which is guaranteed. Arizona will be in the running for the NFC playoffs, but are they even frontrunners in the NFC West division?

This doesn’t stop Buffalo from needing to upgrade their pass rush after tallying just four sacks this postseason. Pass rushers will always come expensive in the league today.

For the best bang-for-buck value, Cincinnati Bengals Carl Lawson should be at the top of the radar.

Lawson fits Bills’ long-term plans

Lawson’s production isn’t measured by the stat line, but rather the X’s and O’s of the defensive front. Since coming out of Auburn, the Bengals have used him as a pass-rushing specialist in a rotational role.

His rookie year was one for the ages, tallying 59 pressures on just 389 snaps. The following two seasons came with mixed results. In 2020, Lawson finished with a career-best 64 pressures to go with 5.5 sacks.

In four years, he finished with at least three seasons of five sacks or more. Not bad for a situational speed rusher.

Lawson’s ability to disrupt a backfield is evident, but it’s also not fully proven. That likely would make him a more affordable name on the market for Beane to swoop in and sign. His ability to play both with his hand in the dirt and as a standing blitzer also provides a second level to his game.

Depending on the price, Lawson should be looking for a contract worth roughly $11-13 million a season. With the NFL salary cap likely coming in between $180 million and $185 million, the Bills can use some extra money by cutting veterans who are no longer viewed as standout players.
Vernon Butler and John Brown are just a few.

At 26, Lawson is younger and healthier than Watt. He also is one of the more underrated pass rushers in the league, meaning his value is likely less than the “proven” names.

Pairing Lawson with Jerry Hughes, Tremaine Edmunds and a secondary that has upside is an easy move Beane must make. It’s also the better one over a name like Watt.

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