The Buffalo Bills under head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier deploy a heavy rotation along the defensive line. They use eight players in games consistently, and rarely does a player exceed much more than 55% of the snaps along the defensive line for an entire season. From a philosophical standpoint, it makes sense to want your players to be fresh as the game and season progresses.
While this strategy is sound, it does mean that the team has to expend considerable resources on ensuring that they have enough players who can play a valuable role on the team. They can’t just have any old camp body rotation in when the games count. That means Buffalo will often have more defensive linemen active than seems “necessary.”
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss a former first-round pick of the Bills who left the team at the end of his rookie contract only to return this offseason.
Name: Shaq Lawson
Height/Weight: 6’3” 265 lbs
Age: 28 (29 on 6/17/2023)
Experience/Draft: 7; selected in the first round (No. 19 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft by Buffalo
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 3/18/2022
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Lawson signed a one-year deal worth $1,187,500 this year. A signing bonus of $152,500 constitutes the guarantees on the deal, so if Lawson doesn’t make the squad, that’s his dead-cap number. His cap hit for the year is $1,047,500.
2021 Recap: Lawson spent the 2021 season in New Jersey, where he played for his third AFC East team in the New York Jets. In 14 games, Lawson made seven starts and played on 56% of the team’s defensive snaps. He had a career-low in sacks, notching just one total (although he was in on two separate half-sacks, one of which was a takedown of Josh Allen in Buffalo’s 45-17 romp in November). He had 23 total tackles, five tackles for loss, two pass breakups, five quarterback hits, one fumble recovery, and his first career interception. That pick came off Joe Burrow in New York’s 34-31 victory over the eventual AFC Champions, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Positional outlook: Lawson finds himself right in the mix for snaps at defensive end, but the competition is stiff. Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, and A.J. Epenesa are the other four players who figure to be in that mix, with Kingsley Jonathan and Mike Love fighting for a spot behind them.
2022 Offseason: Lawson is healthy and he has participated in all team activities—training camp included.
2022 Season outlook: Lawson could serve any number of uses on Buffalo’s roster. He’s experienced enough and had enough success in this defense to give himself a legitimate chance at starting a few games for the team, as his ability to set the edge in the run game and contain quarterbacks in the pocket is a staple of the McDermott/Frazier defense. He also has the misfortune of not having been drafted by this regime, so it’s possible that he’s trying to unseat a player like Epenesa or Basham for the right to be the third or fourth defensive end in the rotation. He could also serve the Trent Murphy role, making the roster but remaining a gameday inactive except for in the case of injury. I’m on record as saying that Boogie Basham is the breakout candidate I’m watching along the line, and I think Rousseau is immensely talented, so I don’t think Lawson is unseating either of them. Epenesa, however, is a guy who could find his snaps in jeopardy with a strong camp from a veteran of Lawson’s ability.
At worst, Shaq is a great insurance policy, and if he can play as well as he did before he started his tour of the AFC East outside of Orchard Park (Lawson had 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hits with the Bills in 2019), then he’ll only make the defensive line better. This was a low-key great signing by general manager Brandon Beane.