The Buffalo Bills have their defensive anchor back.
After more than a year away from the field after opting out last season due to COVID-19 concerns, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei returned to the team for the first time this year and opened up about his decision to sit out the 2020 season. He also shared how the time away helped him to re-focus and recharge.
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Star’s Long-Awaited Return
Prior to this week, there had been much speculation about whether Lotulelei would come back to the team for 2021. The defensive tackle was quiet about his return and some insiders saw hints that the team could be preparing for a season without him. Back in March, The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia noted that there were growing signs he could retire and that the team was already making plans to fill the hole he would leave.
“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.”
A retirement would have been particularly costly as the Bills would not only lose one of their most important defensive players — as Lotulelei often occupies two blockers, opening up room for the team’s pass rushers to be more effective — but would have also incurred a $4.7 million cap charge if he were to hang up the cleats for good.
But signs slowly pointed toward a return, including video posted earlier this month that showed him going through a workout in the days leading up to mandatory mini-camp. He finally came back this week, joining teammates for the first time.
Lotulelei had opted out over safety concerns, and had some significant health issues in the past. As USA Today’s Bills Wire noted last year, he had skipped the draft combine in 2013 due to a heart condition.
Making the Most of His Time Away
After returning this week, Lotulelei said it felt good to be with his teammates again and getting acclimated to the schedule of mini-camp.
“I’m trying to get acclimated and get back into the swing of being in football meetings every day, getting back to football being life,” Lotulelei said, via the team’s website. “Having to kind of put my family kind of on the back burner. That’s just the sacrifice we make in this league, but I’m ready to be back.”
As The Athletic noted, Lotulelei did keep in contact with some of his teammates over the course of the last year via text, but made sure to prioritize time with his family.
“It was all about being a dad,” Lotulelei said. “It was great. I got to see my kids play sports, something I haven’t been able to do in a long time since I’ve been in the league. I got to be around the house a lot more, get them ready. It was all good.”