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Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Making sense of 49ers' Manny Lawson

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Matt Barrows' recent note about Manny Lawson wanting a new contract was used to explain the San Francisco outside linebacker's absence from a recent voluntary camp.

ESPN's Adam Schefter, citing a league source, now suggests Lawson could be traded, and that at least one team has shown interest already.

Lawson is phenomenally athletic and an often-dominant player on special teams. He stands as one of the few combine athletes in recent memory -- Matt Jones was another -- to measure taller than 6-foot-5 before running the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4-second range and approaching 40 inches with his vertical leap (39.5 in Lawson's case). His performance at the 2006 combine helped make Lawson a first-round choice.

There's much to like about Lawson's attitude and effort levels. I've found him to be affable and engaging. He seems like a good teammate and good team player for the 49ers.

The production hasn't matched his draft status, however, and that helps explain why the 49ers haven't addressed Lawson's contract as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Lawson finished last season with a career-high 6.5 sacks. The team does have other options at outside linebacker, but if Calvin Pace can cash in after a 6.5-sack season in Arizona, Lawson isn't out of line thinking he should get more than his $625,000 salary for this season.

Thinking he should get more and getting more are not the same thing, of course. Lawson's problem is an NFL players' problem. Players aren't becoming unrestricted free agents until they play six seasons. Teams have the upper hand in negotiations as a result. For the 49ers, a new deal for Lawson should rank below re-signing Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, whose deal runs through this season, or Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, whose deal runs through 2011.

I would expect the 49ers to act more decisively once they have a better feel for the future labor landscape.