The Buffalo Bills have announced that they've signed free agent outside linebacker Manny Lawson. Early reports indicate that the sides agreed to a four-year deal, and Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reports that the deal totals $12 million, including $7 million in the first two years.
Lawson, who will turn 29 in July, is entering his eighth year in the NFL and is a former college teammate of Mario Williams; the two were bookend defensive ends at North Carolina State. The 6'5", 240-pound Lawson spent his first five seasons as a bit player with the San Francisco 49ers, then spent the past two seasons as a linebacker with the Cincinnati Bengals.
In Buffalo under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Lawson profiles as a SAM linebacker that can put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer when the team goes to passing-down looks; it's a role not dissimilar to the one that Paul Kruger played with Baltimore last season. An excellent athlete, you'll see Lawson stand up quite a bit next season, and is the type of versatile player that Pettine is known to covet. In his career, Lawson has 18.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Our friends over at Cincy Jungle point out that Lawson was not expected back after two consecutive one-year deals, and that the team reduced his defensive playing time pretty drastically last season. Josh Kirkendall reports that Lawson saw just 398 snaps on defense; for the sake of comparison, two-down rookie linebacker Nigel Bradham - who was only a nominal starter for 10 games - saw 395 snaps a year ago.
For now, it's safe to pencil Lawson in as a starter for the Bills next season, where he'll likely slip ahead of names such as Mark Anderson and Arthur Moats for that SAM linebacker role.