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Report: Buffalo Bills will not exercise Shaq Lawson’s fifth-year contract option

Now, both Lawson and Jerry Hughes will be 2020 free agents.

The Buffalo Bills will not pick up defensive end Shaq Lawson’s fifth-year contract option, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. As a first-round pick in 2016, Lawson had signed a four-year contract with a team option for his fifth pro season, valued at the cost of the defensive-end transition tag.

After an explosive junior season that saw 24.5 TFLs and 12.5 sacks, Lawson was the 19th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. He hasn’t lived up to that level as a professional, with only ten sacks and 12 TFLs in three seasons. The chief culprit has been his health.

Lawson entered his rookie season with a nagging shoulder injury from college. The Bills cleared him to play, but that decision was made with the understanding he would need postseason surgery to fix it. He would end up spending six games on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and his first season was largely a wash. An ankle injury, suffered in the 12th game of the 2017 season, forced Lawson onto Injured Reserve (IR) for the remainder of that year. Healthier in 2018, Lawson was now supplanted by Trent Murphy and Lorenzo Alexander as the chief pass rushers to work with Jerry Hughes.

On the field, Lawson has developed a niche as a run-stopping defensive end who can tie up blockers but rarely threatens quarterbacks. He’s an effective athlete, but has had issues executing a varied pass-rushing plan. The run stopping gave him value to this team, but not enough to pay him $13 million in 2020.

Lawson won’t be the team’s only free-agent defensive end in 2020. Jerry Hughes’s contract also ends after this season, outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is set to be a 37-year-old free agent, and the team could save more than $6 million against the cap if they cut Trent Murphy in the final year of his deal. Just like they overhauled the offensive line in 2019, the Bills might be set to do the same with pass rushers in 2020.