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Buffalo Bills’ salary cap ramifications of cutting DT Star Lotulelei

What would it cost financially?

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills have some choices to make this offseason, as they are up against the salary cap. One of the things they are likely to do to create some cap space is cut some veterans with big cap hits. One player that fits that description is defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who lost his starting spot in 2021 after he contracted COVID-19.

When the Bills restructured his contract in 2020, most of us assumed it was so they could cut him in 2021. When he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns, that kicked the can down the road one year. That brings us to now, where his contract is escapable for the first time in a long time.

He started 2021 playing great, and you thought you might be seeing a rejuvenated player, but that didn’t last. According to general manager Brandon Beane, his COVID infection led to a decline in his performance, so if they think that’s it and he can rebound, he might be back. If they want to save some money, though, he has a big cap number.

Lotulelei doesn’t have a roster bonus this year, so they could hold onto him for months without having to pay him more money. That would allow them to see if they had a way to replace him before pulling the ripcord. To offset that, $2.5 million of his 2022 salary is already fully guaranteed.

If you add that $2.5 million to the $5.2 million of signing bonus money that hasn’t yet been accounted for, Lotulelei’s dead-cap figure is $7.7 million. That’s high, but his cap hit in 2022 is more than $9.2 million. The Bills would save $1.5 million in 2022 cap space and more than $3.5 million in cash from salary plus bonuses in 2022 alone. Buffalo would pay him $5.6 million plus bonuses in 2023, and that cash back in the pockets of the owners is a real thing. It’s impossible to ignore either number.

It will be up to Beane what he wants to do, but for the first time since they signed Lotulelei in 2018, the Bills may not have the big man under contract in 2022.

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