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Opinion: I’ll pay $750,000 to see if the Buffalo Bills should keep Star Lotulelei in 2020

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Is Harrison Phillips ready to be The Man?

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is due a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2020 NFL league year in March. If I’m general manager Brandon Beane, I’m gladly making that payment to a veteran leader and setting aside a small portion of my offseason trying to replace him.

The sticking point for most Bills’ fans is Lotulelei’s contract. They see a cap hit of more than $10 million but don’t see the impact he has. He is a solid-not-spectacular player. He’s due $6.25 million in salary in 2020 plus the roster bonus, a $250,000 workout bonus, and a $500,000 per-game played bonus. That’s potentially $7.5 million in new money in 2020.

Yeah, Buffalo could save $2.3 million on their cap by releasing him before the fifth day of the league year. They could save $7.5 million in actual money. They could save cap hits in 2021 and 2022, too. That all makes sense, but they need to replace him if they do that and the cupboard is bare right now.

If it’s up to me, I’m paying Lotulelei the $500,000 roster bonus and the $250,000 workout bonus. For the low cost of $750,000, 10% of his cap hit this year, I can get a look at Lotulelei throughout spring workouts, training camp, and the preseason. For the price tag of a minimum-salary player, I can buy myself the entire offseason to get a sense of where Harrison Phillips is in his recovery.

Phillips tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2019 NFL season. If he is ready to go as the number one 1-tech DT at roster cutdown day, I might make the move to release Star. Odds are, Phillips won’t be 100% by then, in which case I’m probably biting the bullet and paying the veteran his $6.25 salary for the year.

Throughout this waiting period, I’m also trying to address the 1-tech position by re-signing Corey Liuget, working with Vincent Taylor, and adding a free agent and/or a mid-to-low NFL Draft option. It’s not a priority position for me in the same way pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver, running back, and the o-line spots, but I’m not ignoring it, either.

Right now they have Star and Taylor with Phillips coming back from injury. A few more options would go a long way toward releasing Lotulelei, but I’m spending some money on insurance first.

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