By JOHN WAWROW
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — ORCHARD PARK — It wasn’t until after linebacker Manny Lawson signed with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday, when he learned of his new team’s 13-season playoff drought.
“I did not know,” Lawson said, shortly after signing a four-year, $12 million contract. “That’s new knowledge to me.”
Not that it matters, because it has now become Lawson’s intention to play a role in helping end the NFL’s longest active streak.
“I look at myself as coming here to change things,” he said.
Lawson’s signing addressed one of the Bills’ most pressing offseason needs at linebacker. It also marked the team’s first addition since the league’s free agency period opened a day earlier, and when Lawson arrived in Buffalo.
Lawson’s contract includes $4.6 million in guaranteed money, a person familiar with the contract said. The person revealed the length and value of Lawson’s deal on the condition of anonymity because the Bills did not release the contract’s terms.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Lawson is a seven-year veteran, who spent the past two seasons as a starter in Cincinnati. Before that, he played five seasons in San Francisco after the 49ers selected him with 22nd pick in the 2006 draft.
Lawson’s size and versatility — he can play outside linebacker and defensive end — are regarded as good fits in a defense making the switch from a three- to a four-linebacker base system under new coordinator Mike Pettine. And Lawson’s also familiar with Buffalo’s high-priced star, defensive end Mario Williams.
The two were starters on a dominating defensive line at North Carolina State.
“It’s great to have somebody that you actually knew before the NFL came into the picture,” Lawson said of Williams, who the Bills signed a year ago to a six-year, $100 million contract. “We jaw back and forth. It’s good to know that’s still there, and that we actually do get a chance to rekindle our college lives.”
More important to Lawson, was the opportunity to play for Pettine, who was hired in January by Buffalo’s new coach Doug Marrone. Pettine held the same role with the New York Jets, where he established a reputation for overseeing an aggressive defense that, in four seasons, ranked no worse than eighth in the NFL in yards allowed.
Lawson feels more comfortable playing in a 3-4 system, and is also looking forward to getting more opportunities to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“Definitely, I would like to rush the passer more. And talking to Mike, with the packages that he has for us, I’ll get a chance to,” Lawson said. “I think I fit will into this scheme.”
Lawson had 47 tackles and two sacks in 16 games, including 10 starts, last season. Overall, he has 18 sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles in starting 81 of 96 career games.
He’s started at least 10 games in each of his seven years, except in 2007, when he was limited to playing two games after sustaining a season-ending knee injury.
The 28-year-old Lawson was excited by the opportunity to attract a longer-term contract in Buffalo, after signing one-year deals the past two seasons in Cincinnati.
The Bills are in need of linebackers after releasing starter Nick Barnett last month. They also allowed veteran backup Kirk Morrison to become a free agent, while Shawne Merriman isn’t coming back, either, after announcing his retirement last week.
Buffalo’s defense under-performed last season under coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who was fired along with the rest of Chan Gailey’s staff in January. The Bills finished last year 22nd in yards allowed, 31st against the run and 26th in points, which contributed to the team’s 6-10 finish.