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91 players in 91 days: defensive tackle Vernon Butler

Another former Carolina Panthers defensive player looks to continue his career in Orchard Park

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills have quite a few former Carolina Panthers on their roster. If this is the first you’re hearing of this, we’d like to take this time to welcome you to Earth. You’ve chosen one heck of a time to arrive.

With head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane both coming to the Bills by way of Carolina, tapping the pipeline of familiarity between their old locale and their current digs is no surprise. The Bills’ decision-makers know what type of players they want in their systems, and given that many of these former Panthers were either draft picks or strong contributors for the Panthers, it makes sense that Buffalo’s powers-that-be would think those players can contribute in their system.

In today’s installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile one of Buffalo’s defensive tackles, a former first-round pick looking to prove his draft pedigree correct.

Name: Vernon Butler
Number: 94
Position: DT
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 330 lbs.
Age: 26 (27 on 6/14/2021)
Experience/Draft: 5; selected in the first round (No. 30 overall) by Carolina in the 2016 NFL Draft
College: Louisiana Tech
Acquired: Signed as free agent with Buffalo on 3/27/2020

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Butler signed a two-year deal worth a total of $15 million this March, of which $9.3 million is guaranteed. Nearly all of those guarantees pay out in year one, as Butler’s entire signing bonus ($7.8 million) pays out this year. His 2020 cap hit is the ninth-highest on the team at $7,118,750.

2019 Recap: After the Panthers declined Butler’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract, the massive defensive tackle went out and had the most productive year of his professional career. Butler tied a career-high by playing in 14 games, but he started for the first time in his career, managing nine starts throughout the season. He capitalized on the extra playing time by setting career highs in tackles (32), sacks (6), tackles for loss (7), forced fumbles (3), and quarterback hits (8). After only playing around one-third of Carolina’s defensive snaps for his first three seasons, Butler played on 46% of the team’s defensive snaps last year, so he obviously had more opportunity to make plays given that he was on the field more.

Positional outlook: Butler looks to be right in the top part of the defensive tackle group, joining former teammate Star Lotulelei, fellow free-agent signing Quinton Jefferson, and Bills draft choices Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips as the top five at the position. Vincent Taylor is the sixth defensive tackle currently on the roster.

2020 Offseason: Nothing new to report.

2020 Season outlook: Butler has experience playing as a one-tech, as a three-tech, and even as a five-tech defensive end during his professional career. This versatility is something Buffalo covets, as he won’t slot in merely as a replacement for Lotulelei or Oliver, since he can really replace either at any given time. Still, I imagine that Buffalo will use him more as a one-tech if Lotulelei needs a breather on run downs, and they may team him with Oliver on passing downs like they did last year with Jordan Phillips, though I imagine that Jefferson will see more action as Oliver’s wingman in those situations than Butler will. Hopefully, last year’s production was a sign that he finally found himself as a professional football player and not a result of the extra motivation brought on by a contract year. Butler is a lock to make the 2020 roster, and he should end up playing anywhere from 30% of the defensive snaps to 40% this year at a minimum.