The franchise-tag deadline came and went with no news coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals’ camp. The club was expected to have two potential candidates for the tag designation in defensive end Carl Lawson and cornerback William Jackson III, both top free agents at their respective positions.
The decision to not lock up Lawson is particularly shocking. The writing has been on the wall for Jackson III for some time now. After all, Cincinnati did throw all that money at Trae Waynes in free agency around this time last year.
But the Bengals ranked dead in the league in terms of sack count a season ago. Of the 17 sacks they were able to muster up, Lawson accounted for 5.5 of them officially but had a hand in the majority of the rest. Risking the loss of the best defensive lineman and rusher on the roster is a gamble, no matter how you look at the situation.
Now, the front office will have to work tirelessly to leverage their projected $40M+ in cap space to retain two of their better players or risk fielding one of the league’s worst defenses once again in 2021.
Other outside EDGE options put the Bengals in a bind
If the Bengals are unable to retain Lawson, there isn’t much hope that they’ll get the pass rush juice they need via other free agent routes. As previously mentioned, Lawson is at the top of the market at his position, so any outside option brought in would likely be a downgrade.
Of course, Shaq Barrett, the guy that Cincinnati nearly signed a year ago, is still floating out there. But any pitch that would lure him away from the reigning Super Bowl champions would require a lot of cash. The Bengals simply could have thrown that money Lawson’s way if they wanted to spend on a premier pass rusher.
Beyond Barrett, guys like Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, and Romeo Okwara could still be up for grabs. However, nobody among that trio possesses the same upside as Lawson. That could leave the Bengals turning toward the upcoming draft class to replenish the unit, an undesirable position to be in considering all the other weaknesses they must address.
There’s still plenty of time for Cincinnati’s front office to come to long-term agreements with Lawson and Jackson III but if both players slip out of the Queen City, their loss could ultimately sting as badly as the departure of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler from the 2017 offseason.