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Potential Giants Free-Agent Target: Manny Lawson, OLB, San Francisco

Manny Lawson of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a sack. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Manny Lawson of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a sack. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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It seems extremely unlikely that the New York Giants will bring back veteran outside linebacker Keith Bulluck. Veteran reserves Chase Blackburn and Gerris Wilkinson can be free agents. Clint Sintim is still unproven. Phillip Dillard, Adrian Tracy, Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams are all unknowns.

So, outside linebacker would seem like an obvious target area once the lockout ends and free agency begins. The Giants could shoot for a likely starter, or simply for a veteran likely to backup up Sintim and provide some insurance. If they decide to shoot for the former you have to wonder if Manny Lawson could be a target, if the CBA rules make the 27-year-old, five-year veteran an unrestricted free agent. Under 2010 rules, Lawson would be a restricted free agent.

Lawson has been playing in a 3-4 in San Francisco, and the 2007 first-round pick (22nd overall) has definitely gotten mixed reviews for his work with the 49ers. In discussing potential free agents, Walter Football opines that Lawson's skills might be ideally suited to the outside in a 4-3.

I reached out to our friends at SB Nation's 49ers website, Niners Nation, for some thoughts on Lawson. Here is what David Fucillo, editor of Niners Nation, had to say:

49ers fan opinions are definitely split on Lawson. Part of the reason for negative opinions is that he doesn't always pile up the flashy stats. The problem with looking just at pass rush numbers for 49ers players is that the 49ers use of the blitz was incredibly questionable during DC Greg Manusky's time in San Francisco.

Lawson's biggest strength is his athleticism. I was going to say his coverage ability but I think that comes in part from his athleticism. I'm of the opinion that he can cover tight ends as well as any linebacker in the league. While teams want to get sacks and big tackle numbers from their linebackers, I think his coverage ability is underrated.

I wish I could say more about his pass rush skills but it's just really hard to make an accurate assessment given the system he was in. According to Pro Football Focus he has some decent QB hit and QB pressure numbers. However, when it came to the pass rush it sometimes felt like he disappeared. Of course, outside of Justin Smith it felt like that for most of the 49ers front seven in 2010.

There's no doubt Lawson is one of the more physically gifted linebackers in the NFL. he's 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and has some very solid speed. I actually would not be surprised to see him get overpaid by somebody. I'm convinced the combination of size and speed with solid numbers at times will have somebody willing to pay too much.

Let's take a closer look at Lawson's numbers. In 2009 he had 6.5 sacks and 66 tackles. Last season those numbers fell to 2.5 and 55. Pro Football Focus rated Lawson a +13.0 in 2010, eighth among 3-4 outside linebackers. In 2009, he was a +9.9, ninth at the position.

Lawson seems like he has been used as a two-down linebacker the past couple of seasons, even though his athleticism and PFF coverage ratings (+2.1 in 2009 and +1.1 in 2010) indicate that he can cover. He played only 641 snaps in 2010 (Michael Boley of the Giants played 972, for comparison). If the Giants are going to continue to rely heavily on the three-safety package, however, two downs could be enough.

San Francisco drafted Aldon Smith in the first round and seems ready to move on without Lawson. He will likely carry a hefty price tag on the open market. ESPN's Matt Williamson summarized Lawson this way:

Every time I bring his name up, San Francisco fans are like, ‘He is a bust, he is not good.’ But the rest of the league wants him. The best might be ahead of him.

Your thoughts, Giants fans?