Considering he was fresh off a significant injury in 2021, Jets defensive end Carl Lawson had a solid season last year.
But the 27-year-old still didn’t feel distant a year after tearing his Achilles tendon in joint training against the Packers.
Now, nearly two years after the injury, Lawson says it’s as healthy as it has been since being at Auburn.
“It’s been great,” Lawson said of his offseason. “Physically the best I’ve ever had. Most important, spiritually.
“Reverse all my wounds throughout my history. I succeeded in that. Just a treatment, taking small parts of my body, sleeping, refining everything, my general well-being, everything, just becoming a better version of myself.
The Jets signed Lawson in 2021, coach Robert Saleh’s first year with the team. But Lawson didn’t play in a regular season game for the Jets until the 2022 campaign following Achilles’ injury. It was the third time in his career that Lawson suffered a serious injury, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament at Auburn in 2014 and with the Bengals in 2018.
Lawson finished last year with seven sacks, the most since recording 8.5 as a rookie in 2017. He also had a career-high 24 quarterback knockdowns, which ranked sixth among NFL defenses, according to statspass.com. Lawson helped the Jets go from 32nd in the league in total defense in 2021 to fourth in points and yards allowed last season.
“I’m excited for him,” Saleh said. “My personal experience would be Richard Sherman, who had the Achilles injury. We [49ers] signed him that first year. He had a decent year but was nowhere what I remembered.
“The second year taken out he was back and that was the year 2019. I just learned about the Achilles injuries, it’s a two-year injury. The first year you’re not quite at done where you want to be. The second year, it all comes back.
“Yesterday was the first day we saw him, he looks great. I’m really excited for him and what he can do two years after this injury.
During Tuesday’s OTA workout, Lawson looked slimmer and in better physical condition than he did a year ago. Lawson attributes this to the spiritual work he has done off the pitch.
“I just regularly got my bible every morning,” Lawson said. “Some days you may become complacent because you haven’t slept enough. But just create a routine and just have superior habits. I was talking to one of my mentors, Kevin Greene, a long time ago and the only way to be great is to have superior habits. I think this offseason is something that clicked with me. When he passed away two years ago, it didn’t even click. But I think just having different injuries and having different obstacles in my life pushed me to this point.
Prior to the start of free agency, Lawson could have been a victim of the salary cap because of his big contract. However, the Jets added $12.7 million in salary cap space when Lawson agreed to rework his contract. He will earn a base salary of $9 million this season, $8 million of which is guaranteed, with a chance to earn $3 million in incentives.
Before he reworked the contract, Lawson was expected to earn $15 million. After the season he had last year, Lawson probably would have had plenty of suitors had he become a free agent. But he wanted to stay a Jet because he said he would like to end his career wearing green and white.
“I already have a lot of money, I don’t really buy a lot,” Lawson said. “If it ever came to that, which I guess it did…if the quarterback was [Aaron] Rodgers, it was almost like God was talking to me.
“My career started running after that quarterback. I have four sacks against him and my career almost ended chasing that quarterback. It’s kind of obvious because you have to be here.
“But if it ever got to that point, that decision was made in February. I just wish it had been done sooner because I could just focus on training. I love money, but it’s not a big part of my life, my family is taken care of, but an easy decision.