The Buffalo Bills will have to replace Star Lotulelei in 2020. Who will step up?
The Buffalo Bills are one of many teams around the NFL experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from a roster perspective.
One of the team’s top defensive linemen — former Panthers first-round pick Star Lotulelei — has voluntarily opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the potential of contracting COVID-19.
Lotulelei is one of a number of linemen, in particular, to voluntarily opt-out of the 2020 season.
Although health is the primary concern in all of these cases, it’s interesting that many of them are being reported with financial implications.
Lotulelei has lived up to his billing as a first-round pick and even though the majority of his good work is done in the running game, he’s been durable, available, and reliable since he came into the NFL.
That’s a big part of the reason Sean McDermott wanted Lotulelei with him when he became the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
For Buffalo, this decision from Lotulelei comes just a few months after Jordan Phillips left in free agency to the Arizona Cardinals after racking up 9.5 sacks last season.
The Bills are now tasked with replacing not only Phillips’ production but Lotulelei’s production and veteran presence as well.
Fortunately for them, they made some under-the-radar moves in the 2020 free agent signing period.
The Bills’ clutch replacement options
The Bills used their 2019 first-round pick on Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who led all their interior defensive linemen with 556 snaps played.
Behind Oliver was Jordan Phillips, followed by Star Lotulelei.
Ironically enough, one of the top replacements for Lotulelei will be another former Carolina Panthers first-round pick following McDermott to Buffalo — Vernon Butler.
Butler hadn’t started a game in his first three seasons with Carolina, but managed to start nine games in his contract year and racked up six sacks, easily a career-high and the most productive all-around year of his NFL career so far.
The Bills will also replace the combo of Phillips and Lotulelei with free agent acquisition Quinton Jefferson, perhaps one of the most under-the-radar moves in the NFL this offseason.
Over the last two seasons, Jefferson has 6.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits and 39 total QB pressures. He’s been very good at getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis, and with the breakthrough last year of Butler, the Bills may actually be upgrading their defensive line rotation with Jefferson and Butler versus Phillips and Lotulelei.
Time will tell, but Buffalo was very well-positioned for something like this, even though they would certainly prefer the circumstances were different and Lotulelei could feel safe playing in 2020.