Hours after the news that guard Andrew Norwell had agreed in principle to a deal that will make him the highest-paid guard in the NFL this season, it appears that defensive tackle Star Lotutelei is headed to an AFC team as well. Lotulelei is expected to sign a five-year deal with the Buffalo Bills when free agency opens on Wednesday, joining former Panthers Joe Webb, Kelvin Benjamin and others on the team some fans have dubbed “Carolina North” after former assistant GM Brandon Beane has made a habit of bringing players from Charlotte to snowier pastures. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
While not wholly unexpected, the loss of two dominant linemen in the span of a few hours certainly turns strengths into needs this offseason, with the Panthers now firmly in the market for both a defensive tackle and an interior offensive lineman. Star’s brother Lowell, an entrant in the 2018 Draft, hinted at the idea that his older brother was thinking about changing teams earlier this month.
Lowell Lotulelei thinking about playing next to his brother.
Free agency is mentioned, FYI. Be ready. pic.twitter.com/AdVkUPqW3r
— The Riot Report (@RRiotReport) March 3, 2018
Ron Rivera made it clear that the team wanted to keep the 2013 first-round pick, but in the end, as with many decisions in the NFL, it came down to the money; the Panthers weren’t willing to match what Buffalo was offering. Lotulelei is expected to be replaced, at least in part, by Vernon Butler, who played almost 30% of the snaps in 2017.
“I think Vernon did a nice job, especially down the stretch the way he started to grow and show very well for us, but again, you’d love to be able to keep the pieces in place as far as the d-line’s concerned, because if you lose a guy, you’ve got to replace him,” said Rivera earlier this month at the Combine. “It’s hard to find the right kind of fit, and we know that Star does fit us.”
The Panthers will now be in the market for someone to replace that fit.