The Bills now have their first player reportedly opting out of the 2020 season.
A league source confirmed to WIVB-TV in Buffalo that Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will be taking a voluntary opt-out for the 2020 season. It was first reported by the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
The $4.5 million guaranteed he was set to make this season and the $2.5 million next year will now be pushed to 2021 and 2022. He is now, essentially, under contract for 2021 and 2022 instead of this year and next.
The former first round pick spent the first five years of his career with Carolina before signing a five-year deal with the Bills in free agency in March 2018. He renegotiated that deal this past offseason.
Thad’s Three Things
It’s a loss
Lotulelei doesn’t get enough credit from fans, but he is very good at what he does: occupying blockers and defending the run from the 1-technique (close to nose tackle). It’s a thankless job that gets little attention, but it’s important.
Many Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano big plays are assisted because Lotulelei plugs the middle. No one else on the Bills does the job as well.
There are options
The Bills defensive line is not only deep, it’s versatile. There are a number of players who can handle Lotulelei’s role.
Harrison Phillips is the most natural fit as the only remaining, full time 1-technique player. He might have a bit more pass rushing chops than Lotulelei and far less experience in the run stopping mode, but he is the most likely candidate to take over the spot on run downs.
Vernon Butler played a few different roles in Carolina, but there were plenty of 1-technique reps. He’s also familiar enough with McDermott (and new Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington, who coached Butler all four years with the Panthers) to potentially step in quickly.
Vincent Taylor is still on the roster and was the best of the group of players that replaced Phillips last season. Quinton Jefferson is probably not ideal for a run-stuffing 1-tech, but he’s the only defensive lineman on the roster listed without a “tackle” or “end” definition for a reason. Even rookie A.J. Epenesa could be tried out at the 1-tech spot.
The Bills don’t have to look outside the building for a quality replacement.
The big picture effect
While the Bills have plenty of ideas to try in replacing Lotulelei, it will probably mean more responsibility on the plates of multiple players.
Phillips and Butler might have been ideal as more pass rushing specialists. Epenesa would probably be better off using his limited camp reps to work at end. Taylor might not have been a guy who makes the team if Lotulelei plays.
Like any injury, it takes a little bit away from a variety of other players and areas. The Bills are fortunate that they have an array of players who can easily handle the extra work.