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Kelsay’s exit from Bills no surprise

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Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013 11:27 am

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the Bills, in their ongoing roster makeover, are intentionally getting rid of the team’s best talkers.

Of course, I’m being facetious ... but only about the “intentionally” part.

Four full- or part-time defensive starters — Nick Barnett, George Wilson, Terrence McGee and Chris Kelsay — are gone, and three of them were media go-to guys.

There’s a reason Barnett, Wilson and Kelsay were quoted so often ... thank goodness Kyle Williams and Eric Wood are safe.

KELSAY’S exit, via retirement, wasn’t a surprise.

And it’s not unreasonable to speculate the Bills might have nudged him in that direction.

Barnett, McGee and Wilson were waived, partly to create salary cap space, and partly to give them the optimum amount of time to catch on with another team. Indeed, a few days after his release, Wilson, whom we mediatypes affectionately called “The Senator” for his expansive, eloquent answers, signed with Tennessee.

The situation was different for Kelsay, who turns 34 on Halloween.

After being drafted in the second round out of Nebraska in 2003, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end had always maintained he wanted to play his entire career with Buffalo. In that desire, he was like another defensive end the Bills took in the second round a dozen years earlier, Phil Hansen.

They were not only about the same size (Hansen was 6-foot-5, 275), but also from a Midwest school (Phil was from North Dakota State), but their real similarity was that both were high-character players who were fantastic with the media, win or lose.

And their careers ended in about the same way.

Hansen retired after 11 years, following the 2001 season, when the salary-cap strapped Bills were coming off a 3-13 campaign — the first under president/general manager Tom Donahoe and coach Gregg Williams — and major roster changes were coming.

Hansen could still play, but his cap number was too high for a team looking to dump veteran salaries.

Thus, he retired healthy and as a career Bill.

That’s Kelsay.

He’s totally recovered for the neck injury that put him on injured reserve for seven games last season, and is physically fine, though he also missed four games in 2011.

The real trouble was, he had become a player without a position.

These past two years he was both a defensive end (in a 4-3 alignment) and outside linebacker (in the 3-4), but the latter position was a poor match for Kelsay, who wasn’t fast enough to play it effectively.

And even last season, with Buffalo committed to the 4-3, the acquisition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the re-signing of Shawne Merriman as an end and the improved play of Kyle Moore, put Kelsay on the field for only half the snaps when he was active.

This season, under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Buffalo will play a hybrid alignment ... a 4-3, 3-4 mix, leaving Kelsay’s role murky.

Then too, he was due a $6 million salary this season and his retirement saved the Bills over $5 million against the cap ... money they could use to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd and guard Andy Levitre or even a free agent, or two.

It’s not a stretch to think that Kelsay, a man of faith and commitment, pondered his age, the injury, his uncertain future in Buffalo’s defense plus his three young children and saw retirement as the right option at the right time.

At this point in his career, Kelsay’s likely fading skills might not be missed on Buffalo’s defense, but his presence in the locker room will ... especially by us.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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