Star Lotulelei has no problem staying out of the spotlight.
In fact, the Buffalo Bills’ new defensive tackle seems like he’d rather avoid it.
“If doing what I do helps others be great at what they do, then that's fine,” Lotulelei said Thursday at One Bills Drive after signing a five-year contract with his new team. “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 where we're going here. Everybody's going to help each other.”
Lotulelei’s presence in the middle of the defense should make life easier for those around him. The 6-foot-2, 315-pounder is known for his ability to occupy blockers, freeing up others to make plays.
“My role is whatever the team needs me to do,” he said. “Whatever the defense needs from me, I'm going to come in and just work. Do whatever we need to do to get some wins. This team did a great job going to the playoffs last year, so help us go a little bit further.
“I mean, like I said, I'm here to do what the team asks me, what they need from me. Produce, too, but like I said, the team comes from first. What they need from me, that's what I'm going to do, so whatever the coaches ask of me, that's what I'll do.”
He might be asked to do the grunt work, but at least Lotulelei will be paid fabulously for it. Terms of his contract, which were obtained Thursday night by The Buffalo News, show that Lotulelei can earn up to $50 million over the life of the deal -- a $10 million annual average that makes him the team's highest-paid player. That includes a $13 million signing bonus and the following base salaries: $3.5 million in 2018, $7.15 million in 2019, $6.25 million in 2020 and $6.5 million in both 2021 and 2022. Additionally there are per-game roster bonuses of $500,000 in every year, as well as a $100,000 workout bonus in 2018, followed by a $250,000 workout bonus in the last year four years of the deal. There is a $1 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the league year in 2019, a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2020 league year and then two more $1 million roster bonuses on the fifth day of the league year in 2021 and 2022.
That all makes for the following salary cap hits:
• 2018: $6.7 million.
• 2019: $11.5 million.
• 2020: $10.1 million.
• 2021: $10.85 million.
• 2022: $10.85 million.
Lotulelei was a seemingly obvious fit for the Bills given his deep ties to the team’s front office and coaching staff. Buffalo General Manager Brandon Beane was Carolina’s director of football operations and Bills coach Sean McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator when Lotulelei was drafted in the first round in 2013.
“It's a good relationship. I enjoyed the time I had with coach McDermott in Carolina,” Lotulelei said. “He was a great coach, so being able to play here, play for him again, was … part of why I decided to come here.”
Lotulelei won’t be tasked with learning a new playbook in Buffalo.
“Just being familiar with the defensive scheme, so not having to go over to a different team and going through a whole new playbook, that was probably the biggest thing, was just being real familiar with the playbook here,” he said of his reasoning for signing in Buffalo.
Despite that familiarity, Lotulelei didn’t got into free agency with any preconceived notions of where he would land.
“Being in this business, you never know where you're going to be next,” he said. “So you never know what will happen. They don't really tell you too much, but grateful that it was here.”
Lotulelei will join Kyle Williams on the interior of the defensive line. The team also added defensive end Trent Murphy during the beginning of free agency, two significant moves in regards to rebuilding the front seven.
“I had an opportunity to play with some real great players in Carolina, so coming here to be a part of this defensive line, this front, this defense, it's exciting for me," Lotulelei said. "A guy like Kyle Williams, I've been a big fan of his, so coming here, having the opportunity to learn from him as well as play alongside him, will be great.
“I know he's a heck of a player. He's got great versatility, great athleticism. I mean you saw him running the ball last year. He's got a couple touchdowns under his belt. He’s just, from what I hear, a great leader, a great locker room guy, so just everything you want out of a veteran and one of your leaders. I'm excited to play with him, play with the D-line and the defense.”