With Defensive Tackle Star Lotulelei opting out for the 2020 NFL season, the Bills lose a significant veteran presence on their defensive line. However, given Lotulelei’s lack of production, it doesn’t appear to be a significant loss when considering on-field performance.
Off-field, Lotulelei is definitely a loss, as he has been a crucial piece in implementing the Sean McDermott defensive scheme. Previously playing under McDermott’s defense on the Carolina Panthers, Lotulelei had a great understanding of how to perform in McDermott’s scheme and has proven to be a key piece in helping younger players adopt the scheme.
The Bills defense appears to have fully bought in on McDermott’s style of defense, and the importance of a veteran like Lotulelei is not nearly as crucial in McDermott’s fourth season as the Bills head coach. The question now becomes, does Trent Murphy’s veteran presence lose importance just like Lotulelei’s on the Bills defense? Do the Buffalo Bills still need Trent Murphy, or is Lotulelei’s temporary departure solidify Murphy’s spot on the 53-man roster?
The Trent Murphy Dilemma
Before I provide my opinion on Trent Murphy’s future with the Buffalo Bills, I want to take a look at what he has actually provided to the Bills defense since he arrived in Buffalo. Trent Murphy signed a 3-year deal worth $22.5 million, with an average salary of $7.5 million per season. Murphy is currently entering his final year of the contract and only has a dead cap hit of $1.75 million.
I believe the Bills signed him to this type of deal to ensure the opportunity of cutting Murphy in his final year of the contract without taking a huge hit to the Bills salary cap. With the additions of veterans such as Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, and Quinton Jefferson, the Bills clearly felt that they needed to improve the defensive line. As if that wouldn’t be enough, the team also drafted AJ Epenesa.
It should be noted that many NFL analysts have already tagged Epenesa as a true starting defensive lineman in the NFL. It’s evident that the Buffalo Bills defensive line is one of the most talented lines in the entire league. The Bills line is likely no longer a good fit for an aging and injury-prone defensive end like Trent Murphy.
The Economics of Star and Murphy
With Star Lotulelei opting out and therefore ensuring his contract extends one year longer, the Bills are being forced to pay Lotulelei’s contract next season. With the salary cap potentially being reduced next season, the Bills’ cap space is going to be squeezed, and they are going to need to make tough decisions on how to save money. Luckily, I have a solution that could open some cap space.
At this point in time, I personally don’t feel that Trent Murphy brings a whole lot to the table. In his first season with the Buffalo Bills in 2018, Murphy had trouble staying healthy and didn’t put together a productive season, only managing 4 sacks and 24 combined tackles. Last season was a comparable year, as he only tallied 5 sacks and 36 combined tackles.
Before joining the Bills, Murphy put together a quality season in 2016, racking up 9 sacks and 47 combined tackles. It should be noted that he missed the entire 2017 season with a combination of a suspension for using performance-enhancing substances as well as suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. He is not the same player that he once was, and with the Bills defensive line being as loaded as it is, as well as the potential reduction in the salary cap next season, it’s crucial that the Bills save where they can.
I believe that Murphy is a perfect cut candidate, as cutting him would shore up roughly $8 million, and I don’t think the Bills would lose any significant production by cutting Murphy. In my opinion, at this point in time, Murphy stands as a potential third-string defensive end. A third-stringer that holds a cap hit of almost $10 million is not a smart financial decision, and I think the Bills need to make smart financial decisions given the impact that a salary cap reduction could have on a team that has a lot of young players that are nearing the end of their rookie contracts.