"Star has not disappointed by any stretch of the imagination, and he's getting better," Gettleman said on Tuesday after officially announcing the move, per Max Henson of the Panthers' official website. "He's earned this. I'm excited we're going to have him around for two more years."
One would assume this is an important move for the Panthers heading into the draft after losing Josh Norman to the Washington Redskins. Lotulelei, selected No. 14 overall in the 2013 NFL draft, will make the average of the third-highest through the 25th-highest-paid players at his position in 2017. That salary will be guaranteed for injury only.
Lotulelei, 26, made 26 tackles and one sack in 2015. While those numbers marked career lows for the Utah product, Lotulelei plays an integral role in opening up lanes for his fellow front-seven members. Sacrificing his own stats for the betterment of the team, his combination of power and speed off the line often requires two blockers.
“He does probably 90 percent of the dirty work,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said of Lotulelei, per Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer. “It’s unbelievable what he does on the field. He’s a monster. He takes on two offensive linemen, opens it up for me and I just capitalize on what he does.”
It's impossible to argue with the Panthers' results with Lotulelei on the field. They ranked second in Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric last season, helping spur the team to a 15-1 regular-season record and a Super Bowl berth. The Panthers were unable to take down the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, but that was no fault of the defense; it held quarterback Peyton Manning and Co. in check throughout the game.
While Pro Football Focus rated Lotulelei a disconcerting 88th among interior defensive linemen, that undersells his value to the Panthers. Locking in the fifth-year option was a no-brainer. Even if Lotulelei struggles next season, there's likely going to be a team willing to toss a mid-round pick Carolina's way for a buy-low option.
There's no real downside here. The worst-case scenario sees Lotulelei suffering the type of catastrophic injury that would guarantee his salary and keep him off the field for some of 2017. But playing into that low percentage would be poor asset management.
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