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What would a Shaq Lawson contract extension look like for the Buffalo Bills?

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The former first-round pick is set to hit the open market a year from now.

Earlier this offseason, the Buffalo Bills declined to pick up former first-round selection Shaq Lawson’s fifth-year option. With that decision, Lawson will be a free agent following the 2019 season, but does that mean he couldn’t end up back in Buffalo on a different deal?

When Buffalo declined to pay Lawson, they turned down a one-year, $10 million extension. That was too rich for Buffalo’s blood. Using that as a guideline, let’s take a look at what type of contract a solid rotational piece can nab on the free agent market.

Lawson, aged 25, is angling for his second contract in the NFL and is not likely to take a hometown discount until he at least sees what other offers are out there following 2019. With 10 sacks and 76 tackles in 35 games over three seasons, he’s a decent defensive end in the league, but not among the great or elite players at the position.

You can’t compare Lawson’s numbers to that of the big free-agent prize from 2019; Trey Flowers. Flowers has 6.5 or more sacks in each of his last three seasons (21 total) while racking up 164 tackles. His production is more than double that of Lawson.

Here are some better comparables:

Alex Okafor
Three years, $17.9 million ($11.5 guaranteed)
Kansas City Chiefs

At 28, Okafor is three years older than Lawson and finds himself on his third NFL team, joining the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason after a solid two-year stint in New Orleans. With the Saints, he had 4 and 4.5 sacks with 36 and 43 tackles in 2018 and 2017. He started 26 games over the last two seasons. Pro Football Focus actually ranked Lawson ahead of Okafor in 2018.

Trent Murphy
Three years, $22.5 million ($10.375 guaranteed)
Buffalo Bills

After averaging five sacks per season over his first three years, Murphy missed 2017 with a torn ACL. That didn’t stop Buffalo from signing him to a solid deal when his rookie contract expired. Murphy did have problems flip-flopping from DE to OLB in Washington, but in Buffalo he’s played only defensive end under Sean McDermott.

DaQuan Jones ($14 million guaranteed)
Three years, $21 million
Tennessee Titans

Jones was the Titans’ starter at defensive end by his second season and developed into a solid run defender at the end spot. He also contributed 3.5 sacks in his contract year before re-upping in Tennessee. With 102 tackles in the three years before his contract extension, he’s outpaced Lawson and been very healthy.

Contract projection

After being passed over by the team when they refused to pick up his option, it would seem this path is probably not likely, but I think that if there is no bad blood between the two sides, a compromise could be reached.

If you fully guarantee his 2019 salary (most of it is guaranteed anyway), you can tack on $1.85 million to the figure of the new contract to make it look better. Add in $10 million guaranteed that he turned down for the one-year option, but use a creative structure, and you can make both sides happy; Lawson can claim he signed for more than the fifth-year option and the Bills can get a longer deal with lower money.

New deal: Three years, $22.15 million extension with $8.15 million in guarantees including a $2 million signing bonus and immediate $3 million roster bonus ($7.38 million AAV)

Total deal: Four years, $25.5 million with $10 million guaranteed ($6.375 million AAV)

2019
Signing bonus (rookie deal): $1.419 million
Signing bonus (new deal): $500,000
Salary: $1.85 million (Fully guaranteed)
Roster bonus: $3 million (Fully guaranteed)
Cap hit: $6.769 million

2020
Signing bonus: $500,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary: $3.15 million (Fully guaranteed)
Cap hit: $3.85 million

2021
Signing bonus: $500,000
Roster bonus: $500,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary: $5.5 million
Cap hit: $6.7 million
Dead cap if released: $1 million
Cap savings if released: $5.7 million

2022
Signing bonus: $500,000
Roster bonus: $500,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Salary: $6.9 million
Cap hit: $8.1 million
Dead cap if released: $500,000
Cap savings if released: $7.6 million

In effect, it serves as a one-year extension, tacking on the 2020 season for the cost of $8 million in new guaranteed money, a number a little more palatable than $10 million.

Lawson would make good money in years three and four of the deal, betting on himself if he plays well over the next two seasons. (Of course, he could just bet on himself in 2019 and have a good year and sign for more than this.)

I don’t expect this contract to happen—there isn’t a need for it if you’re Lawson unless you’re worried about being hurt or having a down year in 2019—but this at least gives us parameters to have the conversation.