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Star Lotulelei "ready for next chapter" if it's not in Carolina


CHARLOTTE – About 15 hours after the Panthers' season ended in New Orleans, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei had work to do at Bank of America Stadium. 

The dozen or so pair of size-15 shoes and rack of Panthers-issued clothing in his locker wasn't going to pack itself. 

"I don't know what's going to happen," the pending free agent said, "so I'm going to take all of this and give it away to my family."

Five seasons after the Panthers made Lotulelei their top pick in the 2013 draft, his future in Carolina is cloudy. Former general manager Dave Gettleman picked up Lotulelei's fifth-year option for 2017, but the two sides never worked out a long-term deal. 

"A little bit, just because you'd like that sense of security," Lotulelei said when asked if he was disappointed Gettleman didn't lock him up. "I love it here, would love to stay, but you know how the business works and I'm ready for the next chapter."

If that next chapter isn't in Carolina, the Panthers will have lost a guy whose worth goes beyond stats. At 6-foot-2, 315 pounds Lotulelei is a space-eater who often takes on multiple blockers, a role that makes life much easier for linebacker Luke Kuechly. 

"I don't think there's a whole lot of people that can do what I can do," Lotulelei said. "The physicality and intelligence that I bring, I don't think there's a whole lot of people that have that combination. Like I said, I'm not worried about it. I know I'll find a job, if it's here or somewhere else."

But since stats do matter at least somewhat, it's worth noting Lotulelei's dipped after a stellar debut. He's averaged 24.8 tackles over his past four seasons after registering 42 as a rookie. And as Lotulelei's 11.5 career sacks attest, he's not an elite pass rusher like fellow 2013 defensive tackle draftee Kawann Short. But while many speculate 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler can just replace Lotulelei, they're not nearly the same player. Lotulelei is more classic nose tackle; Butler is more like Short.  

In the immediate future, Lotulelei and his wife will return to Utah with their four children. Another is on the way this summer. By then his future will be much more clear than it is now.  

"I probably will (test the waters)," Lotulelei said. "I'd like to see what my offers are out there. 

"Like I said, I'd love to stay here. I love the guys around here. I love this locker room, coaches have been great. But I'm going to do what's best for myself and my family."

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