Rather than risk another injury, and go through another coaching transition in Buffalo, defensive end Chris Kelsay decided it was best to retire after 10 seasons with the Bills.
”I just felt physically, and mentally, too, that I was ready to go in a different direction,” Kelsay said Wednesday during a conference call. ”There is a sense of relief there. So I know that I made the right decision.”
The decision came this week after Kelsay spent months wavering on his future. Rather than keep the Bills guessing, he traveled from his offseason home in Nebraska to personally inform general manager Buddy Nix at the team’s facility in Orchard Park.
”As I kind of went back and forth on it, I believe if you think about retirement that much, you’re already retired,” Kelsay said. ”So I’m happy with the decision and look forward to the next chapter of my life.”
The thought of retirement first entered Kelsay’s mind after he tore a ligament in his neck during practice. He missed seven of Buffalo’s final eight games, and finished on the injured reserve list.
Despite being cleared by team doctors last month, Kelsay was concerned about his health.
”I did not want to leave the game broke down,” he said.
Another factor that weighed into his decision was spending another offseason learning under a new coaching staff. The Bills hired Doug Marrone last month to replace Chan Gailey, who was fired after three losing seasons.
Starting with Gregg Williams, the Bills are on their fifth head coach since selecting Kelsay in the second round of the 2003 draft.
”Any time you have an entire staff overhaul like we’ve had, it’s tough to come in and have to reprove yourself,” he said.
Marrone, the former Syracuse coach, has brought in a new staff that includes former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who is taking over the same role in Buffalo. He becomes the Bills third defensive coordinator in three years.
Kelsay made his decision early enough in the offseason to allow the team an opportunity to assess its plans before the start of free agency in two weeks.
”It’s been weighing heavy on my heart for a while. So it was as good of an opportunity and time to do it as any,” said Kelsay, whose intention all along was to finish his career in Buffalo.
He had two years left on his contract, and was scheduled to make $3.725 million in base salary this season. Kelsay said there had been no discussions between him and the team to restructure his contract.
Kelsay was among the longest serving members on the current team, and the latest veteran to depart.
The Bills defense is already going through a transition after cutting three veterans over the past month: cornerback Terrence McGee, safety George Wilson and linebacker Nick Barnett.
Kelsay was a three-time defensive captain, who finished with 32 1/2 career sacks to rank ninth on the team list. A starter since 2004, he also proved durable in playing in 147 games, including 120 starts. Last season marked the first time Kelsay played in fewer than 12 games.
He is one of only three Bills defensive linemen to have at least three interceptions. Kelsay enjoyed his best season in 2006, when he finished with 5 1/2 sacks and was credited with 88 tackles.
Kelsay’s biggest frustration was being part of a team that has gone 13 seasons without a playoff berth – the NFL’s longest active drought. During Kelsay’s tenure, the Bills enjoyed just one winning season, when they finished 9-7 in 2004.
”Obviously, it’s something that is frustrating, something that we didn’t achieve,” Kelsay said. ”We’re going to turn the corner. It’s just a matter of time. I see good things in the near future for the Buffalo Bills.”
In a statement released by the team, Nix called Kelsay a ”consummate professional” and someone who will be missed.
”He always gave 100 percent regardless of the situation and regardless of the score,” Nix said. ”I know he will be successful in whatever he chooses to do next.”