The anchor of the Buffalo Bills defense could be preparing to pull up and set sail, a new report hints.
Defensive lineman Star Lotulelei was was of the first NFL players to voluntarily opt out of the previous NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns, and an insider suggests that the Bills could be preparing to lose him for good to retirement.
ALL the latest Bills news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Bills newsletter here!
Retirement Could Loom
In a breakdown of offseason predictions for the Bills, The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia wrote that signs could be pointing toward retirement for Lotulelei. He wrote that it would be a major setback for the Bills to lose such a critical piece of the defense, but noted that team could already be working on contingency plans.
“However, there is at least one sign that the Bills could be preparing for his departure,” he wrote. “They kept Vernon Butler over Quinton Jefferson, knowing that Butler can more capably fill in at one-technique defensive tackle, even with Harrison Phillips and Justin Zimmer still on the roster.”
The Bills will sign a running back and other bold predictions for free agency https://t.co/n9kx1095qT
— The Athletic Buffalo (@TheAthleticBUF) March 15, 2021
As USA Today’s Bills Wire noted last year, Lotulelei appeared to opt out of the last season over safety concerns and noted a medical scare earlier in this career. The former first-round draft pick had skipped the scouting combine in 2013 due to a heart condition in which his left ventricle was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, with the normal range being 55 to 70 percent efficiency. The outlet added that this may have been due to a viral infection rather than a heart condition, but it was still seen as serious and especially concerning during a pandemic.
The league had not yet laid out opt-out protocol for the upcoming season.
Bills Would Incur Cap Hit
A retirement from Lotulelei would not only hurt the Bills on the field, Buscaglia noted. When the team restructured his contract just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world and led to his opt out, Lotulelei’s 2020 base salary of $4.5 million tolled over to 2021. The Bills would pay that whether the defensive lineman plays or not, and the team would incur a $4.7 million cap charge this year if he were to retire.
That situation, Buscaglia wrote, “could inhibit some of their offseason moves or lead to another player release.” His retirement could also affect another key defensive player hurt by his absence last season. As Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News noted, former first-round pick Ed Oliver appeared impacted by his absence as defenses were able to key in on him even more. Oliver also had to take more snaps in the spot normally occupied by his 6-foot-2, 311-pound teammate.
If Star Lotulelei returns in 2021, Bills defensive tackles could be set even without Quinton Jefferson and Vernon Butler https://t.co/e7qBfGKwZO
— Buffalo Rumblings (@BuffRumblings) March 9, 2021
“Circumstances were slightly less optimal for Oliver in 2020 because of the absence of Star Lotulelei,” Gaughan wrote. “The Bills didn’t have a true, 1-technique player to line up over a shoulder of the center. Vernon Butler did better at the job the second half of the season. The 287-pound Oliver even took a few more snaps at the 1-technique job than in his rookie year.”