FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Carl Lawson believes he was sent a message from above when the Jets acquired Aaron Rodgers.
Lawson got his first NFL sack on Rodgers as a rookie and ruptured his Achilles chasing him at a joint practice two years ago. Lawson always wanted to play with Rodgers. When the Jets asked Lawson to rework his contract this offseason — which would help sign Rodgers to a new deal and give them the flexibility to make more moves — the muscular edge rusher said it was an ‘easy decision” to take a pay cut.
“It’s almost like God is talking to me,” Lawson said after Tuesday’s OTA practice. “My career started chasing this quarterback. I got (2 1/2) sacks against him. My career damn-near ended in the pursuit of this quarterback. Kind of a no-brainer from my side. Like ‘Hey, you need to be here.’”
Lawson was due $15 million in non-guaranteed money in the final year of a three-year, $45 million deal. He will now earn a base of $9 million with $8 million guaranteed and can make another $3 million in incentives.
He isn’t worried about making some money back in his next contract. Lawson is expecting to have the best season of his injury-filled career.
A fourth-round pick in 2017 for the Bengals, Lawson has missed 46 games, including two full seasons. He played in all 17 games for the Jets last year after the Achilles injury he suffered in Green Bay and recorded seven sacks and 24 quarterback hits.
Players usually aren’t fully back to being themselves until Year 2 after the injury. Lawson said he got himself right physically and spiritually this offseason. He feels “the best I have since college.”
What will that mean on the field? Double-digit sacks, said Lawson, who has never had more than 8 ½ sacks in a season.
“That’s a goal and that’s going to happen,” Lawson said.
The Jets also are anticipating a big year from Lawson.
“I’m excited for him,” Robert Saleh said. “Just learning about Achilles injuries, it’s a two-year injury. The first year you’re not quite where you want to be, and the second year everything comes back. Yesterday was the first day we’ve seen him. He looks frickin' awesome. I’m really excited for him and what he can do two years removed from that injury.”
Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas said, “Doing what he did one year off an Achilles, just being a powerful force on the field, being powerful in rushes, changing direction well — and now we’re seeing it even better.”
Lawson is an extremely driven player, who is never satisfied. That mentality has kept him from appreciating some of his achievements, but it’s also helped him overcome all of his injuries.
He said he’s not extra motivated this season because the Jets asked him to take a paycut or that they drafted edge rusher Will McDonald in the first round. Bigger things motivate Lawson.
“Dude, I’ve been in the NFL for so long,” he said. “I’ve never been on a winning team. I haven’t made my Pro Bowl. I haven’t made a Super Bowl. I’ve had multiple, multiple injuries and I’ve come back better each time. That motivation that you’re talking about is like a speck compared to some of the stuff that goes through my head every single day. I guess I should add that to my list, but it’s really not that big a deal.”
Lawson is also motivated to be the best player he can be for the Jets. They allowed him to provide for his family when they signed him in 2021. Lawson was able to pay for his sister’s college, give his grandparents their retirement home, take care of his parents and buy whatever he’s wanted.
“My main goal here is and what I really, really wanted to do and what I really came and set out to do is give the Jets the best version of Carl Lawson,” Lawson said. “That’s what I’ve been working on each and every day. They gave me an opportunity to provide for my family. … I just want to be able to give them the best version of myself in the time that I’m here. That’s all I want.”