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90 Buffalo Bills players in 90 days: DE Shaq Lawson

The veteran has played quite well in his second stint with Buffalo

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills currently have nine defensive ends on the roster. Two of those players are listed as linebackers, but we know that they function more as ends than they do linebackers. One of those defensive ends has actually been an outside linebacker in a 3-4 front for his career, so he’s slotting into a new role, as well.

Of the nine “edge” players, I could make a solid case for six of them to make the final roster, with a seventh as a dark-horse candidate based on a small sample last year. I also don’t think that the team can justify keeping six defensive ends on their 53-man roster given the needs they’ll have at other positions. In other words, the Bills have some decisions to make this year along the defensive line.

In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile one of the defensive ends on the current roster. He’s a solid veteran who will either be a hard player to cut, or whose play will necessitate that another player who’s hard to cut is released from the roster or traded.

Name: Shaq Lawson

Number: 90

Position: DE

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 265 pounds

Age: 29 (30 on 6/17/2024)

Experience/Draft: 8; selected by Buffalo in the first round (No. 19 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft

College: Clemson

Acquired: Signed on 3/18/2022

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Lawson re-signed with Buffalo once again this offseason, inking a one-year deal worth a total of $1,317,500 overall. Of that total, $452,500 is fully guaranteed. Thanks to the veteran’s minimum exception, Lawson’s cap hit is lower than his contract total, sitting at $1,092,500 for the year. If he’s released prior to the start of the season, Buffalo would be responsible for a dead-cap hit of $452,500. However, as a vested veteran, the entirety of his base salary becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster to start the league year. His base salary is $1.165 million.

2022 Recap: Lawson returned to the Bills after playing with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets in the previous few seasons. He was quite good in his return to Buffalo, appearing in 15 games, starting six, in the regular season. He also started both of Buffalo’s playoff contests last year. In 467 defensive snaps, he totaled 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, one forced fumble, and one pass knockdown. He had four tackles, including one tackle for loss, in the playoffs.

Positional outlook: Lawson is joined by plenty of familiar faces at his positional group as he tries to make the roster again. Joining him are fellow returners Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Boogie Basham, and Kingsley Jonathan, as well as newcomers Shane Ray, Leonard Floyd, and Kameron Cline.

2023 Offseason: Lawson is healthy and participating in offseason activities to date.

2023 Season outlook: The defensive line is going to be an interesting battle overall, as the Bills have stockpiled plenty of talent both at defensive tackle and at defensive end. There’s an argument to be made for almost all of the defensive ends making the roster here, and Lawson is sure to have a great chance to reprise his role as veteran sage-slash-solid role player this year.

With Miller’s status a question mark to begin the season, some of what the team does may depend on whether he starts on the PUP list or not. Miller, Rousseau, and Floyd are roster locks, leaving Lawson, Basham, and Epenesa to fill out the rest. Can the Bills justify keeping six defensive ends if Miller starts the year on the active roster? Are they going to be willing to release one when Miller returns from PUP if that’s where he starts the year? Will they trade one before the season?

I could envision Lawson making the team if they can find a trade partner for either Basham or Epenesa, but I could also see the team releasing him to keep their younger players on the roster. There’s a roster crunch here thanks to sheer numbers, and Buffalo is going to tell quality football players that they aren’t on the roster. Lawson is certainly a quality football player, but something has to give here. It will be interesting to see what the Bills decide at defensive end heading into this season.