Star Lotulelei

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/24/21

We’ll keep track of today’s minor moves here. Teams had until 3pm today to cut their rosters down to 80 players.

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

  • Waived: QB Kenji Bahar

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

New England Patriots

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Released from IR via injury settlement: OT Casey Tucker

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list: K Ryan Succop
  • Waived/injured: OT Chidi Okeke

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Bills’ Star Lotulelei To Return

In the midst of the initial free agency frenzy, Star Lotulelei informed the Bills that he plans to return in 2021 (Twitter link via Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic). The defensive tackle opted-out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lotulelei inked a five year, $50MM free agent deal with the Bills in 2018. The deal yielded mixed reactions and mixed results. The former first-round pick has largely declined since his strong rookie year in Carolina. Although he started for the Bills in 2018 and 2019, the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus weren’t high on his performance. In ’19, Lotulelei was on the field for 516 snaps and recorded two sacks from the interior.

Still, Lotulelei can help the Bills’ run defense, which was one of their weak spots in 2020.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2020 NFL Opt Out Tracker

Per an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, players with COVID-19 health concerns can opt out of the 2020 season. Initially, the deadline was believed to be Tuesday, August 4. Talks between the league and the union have pushed it to August 6.

Chiefs guard and medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first player to officially opt out. Scores of players followed.

Here’s the rundown, so far:

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • T Brad Seaton

Tennessee Titans

  • OL Anthony McKinney

Washington Football Team

Free agents

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bills’ Star Lotulelei Opts Out

The hits just keep on coming. Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will opt out of the 2020 season, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). 

Lotulelei has been in the Bills’ starting lineup for each of the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus hasn’t been high on the veteran, but he was set to return as a first-stringer in 2020. In 2019, Lotulelei was on the field for 516 snaps and recorded two sacks from the interior.

The former Panthers first-round pick may be swapped out for another ex-Panther. Vernon Butler, who joined the club earlier this year, could be the next man up. There’s also former Seahawks lineman Quinton Jefferson on hand – one of those two players may wind up as Ed Oliver‘s partner in the middle.

Upwards of 20 NFL players have opted out of the 2020 season, as of this writing. The Patriots have arguably been hit the hardest, with six opt outs including linebacker Dont’a Hightower, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, and safety Patrick Chung.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bills, Star Lotulelei Agree On Restructure

Star Lotulelei signed a lucrative deal with the Bills in 2018. The veteran defensive tackle agreed Tuesday to restructure it.

The former Panthers first-round pick will see a $1.75MM reduction in his 2020 base salary in exchange for that figure — now set to be $4.50MM — becoming fully guaranteed, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. This will essentially ensure Lotulelei remains with the Bills this season.

The sides also agreed on additional guarantees for the 2021 season. Lotulelei will receive an extra $2.5MM in injury guarantees for next year. His contract, which previously contained no guaranteed money beyond 2019, runs through the 2022 season. It will still tag the Bills with more than $5MM in dead money to release Lotulelei in 2021.

The Bills have used Lotulelei as a starter in each of the past two seasons, and even though Pro Football Focus has not viewed the nose tackle as particularly productive, the team has him stationed as one of its top 2020 cap figures. Lotulelei played 516 snaps this past season, recording two sacks.

Buffalo stands to gain minimally from this restructure, but the team is not exactly hurting for cap space. The Bills entered Tuesday projected to hold just more than $80MM in 2020 cap room.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Brady, Jenkins, Lotulelei

Patriots QB Tom Brady will play against the Cowboys this afternoon, but as Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) notes, the team will need to closely monitor Brady’s elbow moving forward. Brady was unable to finish practice on Friday due to elbow pain, and while he was able to take all necessary reps on Saturday, he will continue to get work on the elbow as the season goes on.

Now for more from the AFC East:

  • It’s not unusual for teams to distance themselves from certain prospects in the pre-draft process in order to hide their interest in those prospects, and that’s exactly what the Patriots did with punter Jake Bailey, as Mike Reiss of ESPN.com writes. New England neither interviewed nor held a workout with Bailey, but it traded up in the fifth round of this year’s draft to select him. That move paid off, as the rookie specialist has two AFC Special Teams Player of the Week nods and is currently a favorite for the Pro Bowl.
  • Rich Cimini of ESPN.com expects the Jets to make a concerted effort to re-sign linebacker Jordan Jenkins this offseason. Jenkins, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency for the first time, has steadily improved during his first four years in the league, and despite missing two games this season with a calf injury, he has posted five sacks, just two shy of his career-high of seven (which he set last year). Jenkins will likely command a contract paying him over $10MM per year.
  • The Jets will have a lot of positions to address this offseason, but tight end isn’t one of them. As Cimini tweets, the club appears set at TE with Ryan Griffin — who agreed to a three-year extension on Saturday — Chris Herndon, and improving rookie Trevon Wesco.
  • Bills fans have been less than impressed with the performances of front-seven defenders Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy, but Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic says (via Twitter) that Lotulelei will definitely be back with the team next year (the Bills could save $10.1MM against the 2020 cap by cutting Lotulelei after the season, but they would also take on a $7.8MM dead cap charge). Murphy’s status is a bit tougher to predict, but if the Bills move on from Shaq Lawson, Murphy is likely to be back for the final year of his contract.

Contract Details: Lotulelei, Bradham, Lewis

Let’s take a look at the details from the latest contracts signed in the NFL:

Bills To Sign DT Star Lotulelei To Five-Year Deal

The Bills have agreed to a five-year deal with free agent defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Although he’s a former first-round pick, Lotulelei’s performance has slipped in every season since he entered the league in 2013. Last year, the 28-year-old appeared in all 16 games for the second consecutive season but managed only six tackles while grading as a bottom-15 interior defender, per Pro Football Focus.

Buffalo, meanwhile, clearly needs help on the interior of its defensive line after ranking just 21st in adjusted line yards a season ago. The Bills shipped malcontent defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to the Jaguars at midseason, while veteran Kyle Williams is now a free agent.

The Panthers, Lotulelei’s former squad, are already heavily invested at the defensive tackle position. Kawann Short is the NFL’s third-highest-paid defensive tackle with a $16.1MM annual salary, while the Panthers used a first-round pick on Vernon Butler in 2016. Veteran Kyle Loveis also under contract for the 2018 campaign.

Before signing with the Bills, Lotulelei also reportedly drew interest from the Chiefs and Texans. Lotulelei ranked as PFR’s No. 4 free agent interior defender.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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Chiefs, Texans Interested In Star Lotulelei

The Chiefs and Texans have both expressed early interest in pending free agent defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com.

While there’s been no word as to whether the Panthers are interested in re-signing Lotulelei, Carolina is already heavily invested at the defensive tackle position. Kawann Short is the NFL’s third-highest-paid defensive tackle with a $16.1MM annual salary, while the Panthers used a first-round pick on Vernon Butler in 2016. Veteran Kyle Love is also under contract for the 2018 campaign.

Although he’s a former first-round pick, Lotulelei’s performance has slipped in every season since he entered the league in 2013. Last year, the 28-year-old appeared in all 16 games for the second consecutive season but managed only six tackles while grading as a bottom-15 interior defender, per Pro Football Focus.

Kansas City and Houston, meanwhile, can use all the defensive line help they can get, as both clubs ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in Football Outsiders‘ adjusted sack rate (the Chiefs were a bottom-10 team in adjusted line yards, as well). Lotulelei could serve as a reinforcement if the Chiefs aren’t able to re-sign Bennie Logan, while joining either KC or Houston would entail Lotulelei playing in a 3-4 scheme for the first time in his career.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.