The New York Jets have been freeing up cap space ahead of NFL free agency and another major veteran cut candidate is defensive end Carl Lawson.
Many believe the Jets might prefer to restructure Lawson’s contract, but there’s no telling if the big-name pass rusher would be willing to take a pay cut. If general manager Joe Douglas does choose to cut the franchise’s leading edge rusher in terms of sacks in 2022, they would save a whopping $15.4 million in cap space.
The Athletic’s NYJ media member Zack Rosenblatt already has the perfect replacement lined up too. “The Jets are set at edge rusher right now,” the reporter wrote during a free agency preview, “unless they cut Carl Lawson for cap savings. If that happens, [Samson] Ebukam would be an intriguing target as a 28-year-old with experience in [Robert] Saleh’s defense.”
The San Francisco 49ers sack artist is a former fourth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, and would profile as another nice rotational pass rusher for Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to get their hands on.
Rosenblatt added that “[Pro Football Focus] projects he’ll earn $10.25 million per year. He had five sacks and 13 QB hits in 2022.”
49ers’ Samson Ebukam Could Act as Carl Lawson ‘Pay Cut’ for Jets
The Jets love Lawson, but they have no interest keeping him at his current cap hit. After all, $15 million-plus is a little too much for seven sacks and 24 QB hits.
Lawson was also coming off a torn Achilles, which some might consider a pro — assuming he’ll be healthier and more explosive in 2023. Things could also go the other direction, however, and the veteran could reinjure himself during the final year of his three-year contract.
Ebukam has a much better track record staying on the field, appearing in 15 games or more in all six seasons he’s played in the NFL according to Pro Football Reference.
The 49ers free agent could also act as a sort of Lawson pay cut, if you think about it. Rosenblatt reported that Ebukam could make up to $10.25 million per year, but the Jets could get creative with that cap hit while drafting up a new contract.
Maybe they backload that cap hit, as Douglas has done many times in the past. Then a $15.4 million cut could turn into a solid replacement and a new $7 or 8 million cap hit (maybe less). That frees up about half of Lawson’s salary, while losing very little at the position — keep in mind you also have Jermaine Johnson II, Micheal Clemons and Bryce Huff ready for more snaps in 2023.
Based on that rationale, this free agency swap would end up being very similar to a Lawson pay cut, assuming the veteran D-end is unwilling to accept one himself.
Jets Must Re-Sign Edge Rusher Bryce Huff
It’s important to note that Huff is also a restricted free agent in 2023. The Jets will likely tender the promising pass rusher, or re-sign him outright in the coming days.
Either way, he’s due for a pay raise this year after playing on an 895K base salary in 2022.
So far, Huff has only earned a little over $2.1 million for his entire three-campaign career according to Spotrac. He should make more than that in year four, and the Jets could use some of the money they save in a Lawson-Ebukam exchange to lock up Huff for the foreseeable future.
The former undrafted prospect registered the best pass-rush win-rate on the Jets in 2022, per Pro Football Focus, at a dominate 28%. It helps that Huff doesn’t really play against the run but for reference, the next highest win-rate was John Franklin-Myers at 18.7%. Lawson was ranked third at 16.7% last season.