Bills' Star Lotulelei Reportedly to Opt Out of 2020 NFL Season Amid COVID-19

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2020

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) following an NFL preseason football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Duane Burleson/Associated Press

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is reportedly opting out of the 2020 NFL season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Lotulelei was set to make a guaranteed $4.5 million this season and $2.5 million in 2021. As a result of his opt-out, that guaranteed money will be pushed back one year each.

Lotulelei signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the Bills in 2018 after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

The 30-year-old veteran was a first-round pick of the Panthers in 2013, and making the move to Buffalo was a logical step since his defensive coordinator in Carolina, Sean McDermott, is the Bills' head coach. Bills general manager Brandon Beane was in the Carolina front office as well.

Lotulelei has started all 16 games for the Bills in each of the past two seasons. Last year, he finished with 19 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and his first career interception.

At 6'2" and 315 pounds, Lotulelei is a prototypical space-eater and run-stuffer whose contributions don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.

While Lotulelei's absence will be a depth hit to a Buffalo defense that ranked third yards allowed and second in points allowed last season, few teams are better prepared to absorb a loss at defensive tackle than the Bills.

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Ed Oliver, who was Buffalo's first-round pick last year, will be the No. 1 defensive tackle on the depth chart and is poised to build on a quality rookie season in which he recorded 43 tackles and five sacks despite starting only seven of the 16 games he played in.

The most like-for-like replacement of Lotulelei is another former Panthers defensive tackle in Vernon Butler. Buffalo signed the 2016 first-round pick in free agency this offseason, and the 330-pounder is coming off a career year, as he recorded six sacks in 2019.

Buffalo also signed the versatile Quinton Jefferson, who played both defensive tackle and defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks last season and finished with 3.5 sacks.

This season will mark the return of Harrison Phillips as well. Phillips missed all but three games last season after suffering a torn ACL. The 2018 third-round pick had 35 tackles as a rookie and has often been compared to former Bills defensive great Kyle Williams.

Buffalo's defensive line depth is one of its greatest strengths, and it will be put to the test sooner than anticipated without the services of Lotulelei.