BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Bills’ defensive front quickly took shape Tuesday, when Star Lotulelei agreed to sign with Buffalo, and Kyle Williams chose to return for a 13th season by saying the he never entertained any thought of retiring.
A person familiar with the situation confirmed to The Associated Press that Lotulelei reached an agreement to sign a five-year contract with the Bills. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the signing the former Carolina Panthers starter won’t become official until the NFL’s business year opens on Wednesday.
The agreement was first reported by ESPN.com.
A few hours later, the Bills announced agreeing to a one-year, $6 million deal to re-sign Williams, who revealed his plan all along was to return.
“As eloquently as I can put it, I haven’t exhausted myself in pursuit of what my dream is of playing this game, or playing for this organization and chasing being a champion,” Williams said during a conference call. “Buffalo is my home. It’s where I want to be. It’s where I want to win. And I couldn’t be more excited.”
The moves bulk up Buffalo’s defensive front by filling both tackle starting positions a day before the start of free agency.
Just as important, the Bills retained a steadying presence in their locker after losing veteran center Eric Wood, who was diagnosed with a career-ending neck injury in January.
Williams was an unquestioned leader on a patchwork, rebuilding team that exceeded expectations with a 9-7 record and ended a 17-season playoff drought. The 34-year-old is so highly regarded, coach Sean McDermott would grow emotional in discussing what the player meant to the team.
“It’s hard not to gravitate toward a guy like that, because of who he is as a person more so than anything,” McDermott said of Williams in December. “How could you not like the way he plays and appreciate that, right?”
Williams returns to his familiar spot in the middle, which he’s held since being selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. And he’ll be playing alongside the 28-year-old Lotulelei, who takes over after Buffalo traded Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville in October.
“I’m all for bringing on as many good football players as we can,” Williams said, referring to Lotulelei.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 311 pounds, Lotulelei was a five-year starter with Carolina after being selected by the Panthers in the first round of the 2013 draft out of Utah.
The native of Tonga is reunited with McDermott, who was Panthers defensive coordinator before taking over in Buffalo in January 2017. Bills general manager Brandon Beane is also familiar with Lotulelei and played a role in drafting him after previously serving as Panthers assistant GM.
Lotulelei has forced two fumbles and has 11 1/2 sacks in 76 career games, and was voted to the NFL all-rookie team in 2013. His future in Carolina was uncertain after the Panthers signed defensive tackle Kawann Short to a five-year, $80 million contract extension last offseason, and also used a first-round pick for Vernon Butler last year.
Williams is a one-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection. He showed no signs of slowing last year, with 41 tackles and three sacks in starting all 16 games. Overall, his 43 1/2 sacks are the most by a defensive tackle in franchise history.
Williams has no expectation of taking on a diminished role after leading Buffalo’s defensive linemen by playing 758 snaps last year.
“I prepare myself to play as many as I possibly can because mentality-wise, I feel like we’re a better football team when I’m on the field,” he said. “I’m coming back to play. I’m not coming back to say, ‘Oh, hey listen, I’ll just play 25, 30 snaps a game and let you guys fight over the rest.’”
Buffalo’s defensive front seven has numerous needs with starting linebackers Preston Brown and Ramon Humber eligible to become free agents. The Bills finished 26th in yards allowed and gave up 140 or more yards rushing eight times, including a 10-3 loss to Jacksonville in the AFC wild-card playoff game.
Lotulelei’s addition is the latest bold move made by Beane in reshaping Buffalo’s roster since being hired in May to replace Doug Whaley.
Beane has already completed two trades over the past week in dealing quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland and sending starting offensive tackle Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati. Buffalo moved up nine spots in the first round by acquiring the Bengals’ selection, 12th overall, as part of the Glenn trade.
The deals continued strengthening Buffalo’s bid for selecting one of several highly regarded quarterback prospects in the first round next month. The Bills have two picks in each of the first three rounds, including the 22nd selection.
Williams backed the moves.
“It goes back to really believing in and trusting what Brandon and Sean are doing,” Williams said. “I believe in their vision of what they’ve trying to build. And so for me, I’m on board with what they’re doing.”
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