The Bengals have a pair of key free agents in cornerback William Jackson III and defensive end Carl Lawson. Cincinnati could choose to apply the franchise tag one of them for the 2021 season. Bringing back either or both Lawson and Jackson next season would greatly help the Cincinnati defense.
A report by Pro Football Focus in an article focusing on the “Franchise tag candidates for all 32 NFL teams” the Bengals’ most likely candidate is speculated to be Lawson. The decision to apply the franchise tag and if it should be Lawson or Jackson will be a difficult one for Cincinnati during the 2021 offseason.
Jackson was the Bengals first-round pick, 24th overall out of Houston. In four seasons in Cincinnati, Jackson has recorded 150 tackles, 41 pass breakups and three interceptions. Jackson has stated 43 of the 44 games he has played for the Bengals over the past three seasons.
Cincinnati drafted Lawson in the fourth round, 116th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Lawson has 81 tackles, 83 quarterback hits and 20 sacks in four seasons. Lawson’s career-high 8.5 sacks came as a rookie in 2017. Lawson had 5.5 sacks in 2020. The Bengals finished last in the NFL with 17 sacks in 2020.
"CINCINNATI BENGALS: EDGE CARL LAWSON2020 overall grade: 76.3Projected franchise tag number: $15.893MWilliam Jackson III was another potential candidate here, coming off his fifth-year option season having played well but perhaps not well enough for Cincinnati to feel comfortable doling out a long-term contract.The Bengals signed cornerback Trae Waynes to a three-year, $42 million contract before the 2020 season, but an injury kept him out for much of the year. With Waynes expected to return, Cincinnati may let Jackson hit the market.Regardless, Lawson has emerged as a top-end edge rusher, with his 64 pressures in 2020 leading to a career-high 84.9 pass rush grade. However, 2020 was Lawson’s first season of playing over 500 snaps, so the Bengals may want to see a repeat performance before agreeing to a big, multi-year extension."
With Waynes under contract for two more years, the Bengals have a bigger need at edge rusher making Lawson more likely to be franchise tagged. Cincinnati will need more production to receive a big contract. Tagging Lawson would be the best thing for the Bengals allowing the franchise another season with him.
Lawson needs to prove he can perform at a high level consistently getting with the snaps he received in 2020. If Cincinnati allows Lawson to become a free agent, the likelihood is that he will receive a big contract offer. Edge rushers are one of the most sought-after positions in free agency.