The Buffalo Bills seemed poised to enter the NFL’s free agency period precariously thin at defensive tackle.
Then, in the span of 48 hours, fan favorite Kyle Williams decided to re-join the team on a one-year deal, and the Bills made their biggest (literally) defensive splash in free agency by agreeing to terms on a five-year, $50-million deal to bring his pass-rushing and run-stuffing talents to Orchard Park.
During an introductory press conference with reporters, Lotulelei credited his familiarity with head coach Sean McDermott—who was Lotulelei’s defensive coordinator his first four seasons with the Carolina Panthers—and general manager Brandon Beane—who was Carolina’s assistant general manager in 2015 and 2016—with swaying him to sign with the Bills this offseason.
“It’s a good relationship; I enjoyed the time I had with coach McDermott in Carolina; he was a great coach. Being able to play here [and] play for him again, was part of why I decided to come here,” Lotulelei said. “Coach McDermott was part of the organization in Carolina when I was drafted, so I know him and Brandon Beane well. ... Mostly just being familiar with the defensive scheme, not having to go over to a different team and go through a whole new playbook. That was the biggest thing was just being real familiar with the playbook here.”
With the Bills having traded away Marcell Dareus, the talented but disgruntled former first-round draft pick mid-season, Buffalo had a gaping hole to fill in the middle of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s 4-3 defense as a run-stuffer who can pressure the quarterback when called upon.
“I’m going to come in and just work, do whatever we need to do to get some wins,” said Lotulelei, who was drafted 14th overall out of Utah by the Panthers in the 2013 NFL draft. “The team did a great job in going to the playoffs last year, so [I’ll will try to] help us go a little bit further.”
Lotulelei, 28, recently completed his five-year rookie deal with the Panthers, During his Carolina career, Lotulelei started 75 games, compiling 11.5 sacks to go with 88 combined tackles, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
At 6-foot-3, 311 pounds, Lotulelei is an intimidating presence who will mostly play the nose tackle position in Buffalo’s defense. During the 2017 campaign, Lotulelei played 59 percent of the snaps on defense, often occupying a lot of space in the middle while taking on multiple blockers.
Like he did in Carolina, McDermott and Frazier should count on Lotulelei to keep Buffalo’s linebackers free of the offensive linemen coming to the second level. It’s a role Lotulelei relishes, joining a talented defense that features Williams, Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, and Shaq Lawson.
“I’m excited man. I had the opportunity to play with some real great players in Carolina, so coming here and being a part of this defensive line and this front, this defense, is exciting for me,” Lotulelei said. “A guy like Kyle Williams, I’ve been a big fan of his. Coming here and having the opportunity to learn from him as well as play alongside him will be great. If doing what I do helps others be great at what they do, then that’s fine. Like I said, I was part of a front that had some real good players in Carolina, so I helped them, but at the same time, they helped me. I think that’s exactly what we’ve got going here; everybody’s going to help each other.”