ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Veteran Manny Lawson was cut by the Buffalo Bills on Friday in what became the latest in a string of off-season shuffles at outside linebacker.
Now the starting pass-rushing job falls to journeyman Lorenzo Alexander, who was signed in April to fill a special teams role.
Fullback Jerome Felton was also among the 21 players released by the Bills in moves made a day before NFL teams are required to establish their 53-player rosters.
Coach Rex Ryan declined to provide specifics why Lawson was released, except to credit Alexander for earning the job. Ryan previously spoke highly of Lawson, citing the player’s versatility and intelligence in noting he would have an important role at several positions.
As for Alexander, Ryan said: "At no point did I think his role would be a starter for us. But he earned the right."
In 10 NFL seasons split between Washington, Arizona and Oakland, Alexander has nine career sacks while starting just 16 of 127 career games. He’ll start on the left side opposite Jerry Hughes at a position that has been in flux since Mario Williams was cut in March.
First-round pick Shaq Lawson is the heir apparent, but he’ll miss at least the first six weeks of his rookie season recuperating from shoulder surgery. The job then fell to Manny Lawson, whose departure was regarded as a surprise.
Lawson encountered several setbacks over the past month. He opened training camp sidelined by a partially torn pectoral muscle and wasn’t cleared for practice until three weeks ago. He is also being investigated by the NFL for potentially violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Lawson said he’s done nothing wrong, and the NFL has not revealed what it is investigating.
General manager Doug Whaley would only say, "what we always do is whatever we think is best for the team," when asked about Lawson being released.
Alexander was also surprised by the move, and referred to Lawson as a team leader. But he was also pleased with the trust Ryan has placed in him.
"They felt comfortable enough to allow me to start," Alexander said. "Now it’s my job to continue to get better, not feel complacent or feel like I’ve arrived."
The pass rush was a significant concern in Ryan’s first season. Buffalo managed just 21 sacks — a franchise low for a 16-game season — and a year after the team had a league-leading 54.
The Bills also cut linebackers Kroy Biermann and Randell Johnson.
Felton was cut after he struggled to establish a role in his first season after signing a four-year contract with Buffalo last year.
Buffalo is instead going with youth at fullback with rookie free-agent addition Glenn Gronkowski — the younger brother of New England star tight end Rob Gronkowski — remaining on the roster.
"I can’t imagine playing anywhere else," said Gronkowski, who was born and raised in Buffalo.
And he is already looking forward to needling his older brother.
"We’ve been smack-talking already, but now that’s for real," said Gronkowski, who also had two other brothers, Chris and Dan, play in the NFL.
Buffalo now has a 54-player roster, including defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who will miss the first four games of the season serving an NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Bills are off until Tuesday, when they begin preparing to open the season at Baltimore on Sept. 11.
Receivers Walter Powell and Greg Salas secured the final two spots behind Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin.
Receivers not making the cut were Jarrett Boykin, Dez Lewis and Kain Colter. At Northwestern, Colter shared quarterbacking duties with Trevor Siemian, now the Super Bowl champion Broncos’ starter.
Also released were cornerbacks Mario Butler, Sterling Moore and Sammy Seamster, running backs Boom Herron and James Wilder Jr., and tight end Blake Annen.
Offensive linemen released were Marquis Lucas, Chris Martin, Cyril Richardson and Fernando Velasco. Defensive linemen released were Brandon Deaderick, Lavar Edwards, Max Valles and Casey Walker.