What Kyle Williams said about why he returned to Buffalo Bills for another season

BUFFALO, N.Y. — 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 wont become official until the NFLs business year opens on Wednesday.

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.

“I never really let my mind get too far on any of the, I guess, the doubt or the negative side that this may not work out,” Williams said during a conference call with reporters. “I guess I kind of had hoped that it would. Obviously, the closer that we got into, I guess, the sort of what (Wednesday, the start of the leagues free-agency period) brings, theres a little bit of stuff thats creeping in and some outside noise.

As eloquently as I can put it, I havent 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. Its where I want to be. Its where I want to win. And I couldnt be more excited.

The moves bulk up Buffalos defensive front by filling both tackle starting positions a day before the start of free agency.

Lotulelei had four sacks in 2016, but only 1.5 last year. Of course, as a player that is essentially a nose tackle, sacks arent the end-all-be-all for how he influences the team. But McDermott will likely ask for a lot out of Lotulelei out of the gate, especially for a five-year deal with a player he knows. Lotulelei was mostly a space-eater for the Panthers — Ron Rivera acknowledged as much — but Lotulelei was 45th of 49 defensive tackles that took at least 50 percent of snaps in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Kyle Williams said there was never a doubt in his mind about returning to the Bills

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.

As for Lotulelei, the Panthers drafted him in the first round with the 14th overall pick in 2013. In that span, he has 11.5 sacks and 83 combined tackles. Hes been a steady presence on the field, though some Panthers fans were disillusioned with him in his final years due to poor run stuffing percentages and analytic performance. Losing Lotulelei and Andrew Norwell may hurt the Panthers, but theyll look to retool sooner than later after making the playoffs last year.

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.

Wherever you stand on analytics, Lotulelei will need to get better to justify that contract in Buffalo. He has the potential — he was in the higher tiers of rankings in his first two seasons — but the Bills are clearly betting on his drop-off not being a trend. The Bills were 29th in the league in rushing yards against last year with 124.6 per game. They need to see instant improvement on that number for this investment to be worth it.

Its 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 hes held since being selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. And hell be playing alongside the 28-year-old Lotulelei, who takes over after Buffalo traded Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville in October.

Lotulelei was chosen by the Panthers with the 14th overall selection. His professional career got off to a hot start. As a rookie, he ranked second in analytics website Pro Football Focus run-stop percentage among defensive tackles. Lotulelei made 30 “stops” – defined as tackles that result in an offensive failure – on 232 run snaps. Overall among defensive tackles, Lotulelei ranked 14th out of 40 qualifying defensive tackles who took at least 50 percent of their teams defensive snaps. In his second year, he ranked 15th out of 40.

Kyle Williams agrees to terms with Bills for 2018 season

Im all for bringing on as many good football players as we can, Williams said, referring to Lotulelei.

He will be counted on to help shore up a run defense that ranked 29th in the league, allowing an average of 124.6 yards per game. After Dareus was traded to the Jaguars in midseason, the run defense really struggled. The Bills allowed 1,487 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground from Week 9 through the end of the season. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, 1,105 of those yards came inside the tackles. Opponents averaged 4.8 yards per rush inside the tackles, which was tied for worst in the NFL.

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.

“Hes a guy who has declined over the past couple of seasons, and even at his best wasnt the player he was supposed to be as a draft prospect,” PFF analyst Sam Monson wrote in an email to The Buffalo News. Hes a run stuffer in a league thats ever more more pass oriented. … On a modest deal, he should at least be able to play nose tackle for the Bills in a way Cedric Thornton couldnt, but it would need him to be significantly better to make it a big move.”

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.

“A lot of things have to happen, a lot of things have to play out,” Williams said. “I believe whole heartedly that you dont win championships or dont win games by looking at paper and looking at who you have or who you dont have. Thats why you play the game. Thats why you hold guys accountable to the standard that you have. And you go out and compete your tail off and you try to make it happen. Theres a whole lot of things that are going to happen between now and when we kick the football off in September.”

Bills to sign ex-Panther Star Lotuleilei to 5-year deal, Kyle Williams to return for 13th season

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.

The NFL is unpredictable, so Williams didnt know for sure if everything would work out, but he knew he wanted to play his age-35 season. So after the tears had dried and the aches and pains subsided, Williams got to work with the Bills on getting a deal done. The two sides agreed to a one-year, $6 million contract on Tuesday that guarantees Williams $5 million.

Williams has no expectation of taking on a diminished role after leading Buffalos 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 were a better football team when Im on the field, he said. Im coming back to play. Im not coming back to say, Oh, hey listen, Ill just play 25, 30 snaps a game and let you guys fight over the rest.

Buffalos 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.

Lotuleleis addition is the latest bold move made by Beane in reshaping Buffalos 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 Buffalos 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.

It goes back to really believing in and trusting what Brandon and Sean are doing, Williams said. I believe in their vision of what theyve trying to build. And so for me, Im on board with what theyre doing.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams is putting off retirement to return for a 13th season in Buffalo.

Williams agreed to a one-year contract, the Bills announced Tuesday, a day before the NFL’s free agency period opened. Williams’ contract had expired and he didn’t rule out the possibility of retiring for a second consecutive offseason.

The 34-year-old has established himself as the team’s most respected leader both on and off the field. Williams is a one-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection and been a starter since the Bills selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of LSU.

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