Free agency is right around the corner and with the projected lower salary cap, the Colts are one of the few teams that actually have an opportunity to spend this offseason. If the current projections hold, the Colts are looking at nearly 66 million in cap space heading into free agency. A good chunk of that will get eaten up by a likely extension for T.Y. Hilton and an early extension for Braden Smith but the Colts will have room to work with.
With the cap space the Colts have, they have to be aggressive in getting a legit pass rusher in free agency. This is a deep class on the edge and the Colts need to acquire an impact perimeter player. One such free agent that is my personal favorite target is Bengals defensive end, Carl Lawson.
Lawson was incredible for the Bengals this past year as he totaled 6 sacks, 24 QB hits, and 34 hurries. He actually had double the total amount of QB hits as every defensive end on the Colts’ roster combined. His 34 hurries would have ranked first on the Colts this year, even above All-Pro DeForest Buckner. So let's look a bit into this potential free agent on film and see what the Colts could be getting in this pass rusher.
Lawson was once projected as a first-round pick before concerns with injuries scared some teams off. He measured as an elite athlete at the combine with excellent size, strength, and explosiveness while having below-average arm length and lateral ability.
By far and away the best trait about Carl Lawson is his power at the point of attack. He has extremely powerful hands that allow him to create depth in the pocket and get after opposing quarterbacks. Even when he stalls in his rush, his hands are strong enough to break the grip that tackles can have on him so he can maneuver around tackles for pressure. He was constantly able to move quarterbacks off their spot by collapsing the pocket with his bull rush.
Where Carl Lawson really shines though is with his power. Wicked first punch and his bull rush just moves guys so easily. Colts need to pursue him in free agency pic.twitter.com/pcDFrAkrcR— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 19, 2021
While his three-cone drill would suggest otherwise, I was pleasantly surprised with how well Lawson was able to turn the corner on his film. He isn’t what I would describe as a bendy player but he is not a super stiff athlete like most power rushers are. He is excellent at hooking his outside arm around the back of the offensive tackle and then cornering around for the sack. It may not be an elite trait by any means but it is an effective change-up that he mixes in well with his power rushes.
For a player who mainly wins with power, I am pretty impressed with how Carl Lawson turns the corner on the outside. Once he is able to hook that arm, its over. Really skilled pass rusher pic.twitter.com/WqZKqwgmAP— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 19, 2021
Go-To Long Arm
Getting back to his power though, his long arm move is a devastating go-to move. His bull rush is effective and nearly as good but he drives offensive linemen so easily with his long arm. He starts his rush by swinging wide and selling that he is going to turn the corner with speed before driving his inside arm to the chest of the offensive tackle. This allows him to keep his outside arm free to swat away the tackle’s chances of regaining the block while also using his power and strong base to collapse the pocket. As you can see from these clips below, it is quite an effective move.
Carl Lawson has a devastating long arm. He is an outstanding pass rusher that wins in multiple ways but his power is what truly shines. Indy needs to do everything in their power to sign this guy this offseason. Need his juice and power off the edge pic.twitter.com/ZoT2PLeWC7— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 19, 2021
Juice to win inside
The biggest thing that Lawson would add to the perimeter of this defense is just speed and explosion. Justin Houston and Denico Autry have been solid the last few years on the outside for Indy but neither are a threat to quickly beat their man with explosion or speed. Lawson has that ability to win inside or outside on opposing tackles and be a legitimate threat no matter where he lines up. His power and go-to moves are great but it’s the speed and explosion that he brings that could really change this defense.
Final Thoughts + Projected Contract
Currently, Spotrac has Lawson projected to get a three-year deal worth 8.8 million dollars a year in free agency. While that may seem like a bit, remember that the Colts gave a much older and less explosive pass rusher in Justin Houston a two year 24 million dollar deal just two years ago and that worked out perfectly for the team.
I honestly think Lawson needs to be the top target for the Colts in free agency this year. He won’t command a huge market like some of the other pass rushers available and won’t hurt the future plans to give big contracts to Braden Smith, Darius Leonard, and Quenton Nelson. On top of that, he is a young player who has the upside to be an impact player like any of those top pass rushers. Overall I think his impact along with DeForest Buckner could help transform the Colts’ pass rush from an inconsistent weakness to a strength in 2021.