The outside linebacker showed up for a mandatory minicamp on Thursday after missing the 49ers voluntary workouts. He says he needed a change in scenery and that he is in the best shape of his life.
Lawson started all 16 games last year for the first time in his career, leading the 49ers with a career-high 6.5 sacks. Since then, San Francisco has extended the contracts of other young players the team feels are key to its future.
Lawson is in the final season of the five-year, $7.5 million deal he signed as the second of San Francisco's two first-round draft picks in 2006. His base salary of $630,000 pays him less than two of the team's other outside linebackers.
The 49ers may be inclined to wait and see what Lawson can do during a contract push this season. He can become a free agent in 2011.
"I would like a new contract," Lawson said. "I want to be here. I want to be a San Francisco 49er. But everybody wants a new contract, and I'm about everybody getting what they deserve."
The fifth-year veteran had missed all of the team's offseason work before showing up for the start of a mandatory three-day minicamp that will complete San Francisco's spring practice program.
During his time away from the team, Lawson said he worked out diligently at a training facility in Arizona, where he focused on improving his strength, coverage skills and explosion off the line.
"I'm proud of the results I've been getting," Lawson said. "I've been here all of my offseason for four straight years, and I wanted to kind of step offside and get a new look. When you step away and come back, it's almost like you're on a new team, like it's brand new. So now I'm feeling more excitement."
After missing most of the 2007 season with torn knee ligaments, Lawson finally returned to top form last year when he had a career-high 78 tackles and tied a franchise record with four forced fumbles. He ranked fourth among NFC linebackers in sacks.
But the 49ers would like even more production from their outside linebackers, the key pass-rushing positions in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme.
Brooks pretty much took Lawson's job at left outside linebacker during third-down rushing situations over the final six games of last season, when he emerged as a force for the first time in his four-year NFL career.
Brooks, who didn't play a single down during his first season with the 49ers in 2008, was second in the league over the final five games of last season with five sacks and finished the year with a career-high six sacks.
Brooks has taken Lawson's place with the first-unit defense so far during spring drills, but Lawson said he's ready to resume his role as a starter now that he's back with the team. Though most of the roster has participated throughout the spring, all of San Francisco's offseason workouts before Thursday were voluntary.
Brooks "was in there because I was away," Lawson said. "Now I'm back. Now we're going to step in and go back and forth with each other. Competition is where it's at. Everybody has to fight and work for that position. It's not going to be just handed out."
Notes: Rookie FB Marcus Waugh, an undrafted free agent from Cincinnati, participated in Thursday's practice on a tryout basis. ... The 49ers announced that 13-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Jerry Rice will join the team's Hall of Fame later this year. Rice will be honored during a halftime ceremony at San Francisco's Sept. 20 home opener against New Orleans.