Shaq Lawson called it a tough decision to leave the only NFL franchise he's ever known.
The now-former Buffalo Bills defensive end also thinks he made the right decision in choosing to sign a three-year contract with the Miami Dolphins.
"It was a tough decision, because you know how much I love Buffalo," Lawson told The Buffalo News in a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. "I was getting in my groove in Buffalo and everybody was starting to enjoy me around Buffalo. I spent my whole NFL career there, so man, it's tough when you've got to leave those guys, great teammates, great coaches and stuff like that. To sit back and think about all the memories you had with those guys, I mean, it was just a hard decision. But I feel like I made the right decision, what's best for me and my family."
Lawson can make up to $30 million over the life of his contract with Miami – a deal that can't become official until the NFL's new league year officially starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
"Out of all places, I never thought I'd end up in Miami," Lawson said. "You never know where people are going to end up. ... I would have loved to stay in Buffalo. It was a hard decision, because I met some great people in Buffalo – people I'm always going to have a long-term relationship with. I had a great four years there ... but I mean, like I said during locker clean out, it's a business decision. I've got to live with it and move forward."
Lawson said he had a contract offer to return to the Bills, but decided that the opportunity in Miami was one that was too good to pass up. The Bills could have had Lawson under contract for 2020, but General Manager Brandon Beane elected last offseason not to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
"At the end of the day, I could always test the market and still go back to Buffalo," Lawson said. "I had the right to test the market. I bet on myself this year after they didn't pick up my fifth-year option. If I had the chance to do it, I wanted to do it and see how it would work. God is good. It paid off better for me. I didn't know how things were going to go. I hadn't ever been through it. The tampering period started and that's how everything went down. I heard the Dolphins had interest and everything went down that way."
Lawson was a rotational player throughout his time with the Bills. He did not make a single start in 2019, and made just six in 2018. That came after he started 10 games in 2017. The following offseason, the team signed defensive end Trent Murphy, who took over as the primary starter.
"Look, I knew how it worked when they brought Trent in a couple years ago to replace me as a starter. It's a business, man. They brought their guy in, and I had to build their trust," Lawson said. "It came with time. Finally I got their trust throughout the last two seasons. I wasn't stressing about the playing time, because when I got out there and played, it showed the impact I had. I just tried to bring the energy and juice. It showed the last two years. Playing time wasn't an issue."
Lawson responded to not having his fifth-year option getting picked up with a career year. He finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks and tied for the team lead with 13 tackles for loss, despite playing just 47% of the defensive snaps.
"I knew what I had to do during the season," Lawson said. "They could have gave me my fifth-year option and I could have been back with Buffalo, but I had to play it out. I was out there hungry. When I got the opportunity, I made the most of it. Now I'm going to have a great situation down there in Miami. I'm happy, but it's still a shock right now. It doesn't feel real."
Lawson admitted it was weird to think about facing his former team twice a year as a division rival. He's been thinking about what members of Bills Mafia might have to say about him switching sides.
"I don't know how they'll react after the decision I made, but hopefully my letter and the things I did around the community in Buffalo will make them understand I had to do what was right for me," he told The News.
In that letter, which Lawson published on his social media accounts Monday, he concluded by saying: "Buffalo, you will always have a special place in my heart as my first NFL team, and as a city that is truly full of good neighbors."
On Tuesday, he doubled down on that appreciation, once again thanking former General Manager Doug Whaley and coach Rex Ryan for making him a first-round draft pick in 2016 and crediting Beane, coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier for helping him grow as a person.
"I've got all the respect in the world for them. I want to thank those guys," Lawson said. "It feels great (to have a new contract), but the work ain't done yet. I've got other goals I want to do. I want to make it to the Pro Bowl – get these double-digit sacks. Obviously, win a championship. So I've still got goals. I feel like the finished product ain't there yet. I've still got a lot on the table. How I played last year, I've just got so much confidence, man. I'm just ready to go, move forward, take the next step and do my thing in Miami."