At the end of Terrence McGee’s second season, he’d made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner and established himself as the left cornerback on the NFL’s second-best defense.
McGee’s future with the Buffalo Bills was unlimited.
Flash forward eight years and McGee can’t help but ponder a legacy of dissatisfaction. Beset with injuries in recent years and unable to remain in the lineup, McGee was released by the Bills on Thursday.
McGee, recovering from a November knee surgery, plans to forge ahead and hook on with another team.
But does he wonder what his career would have been like had he avoided all those injuries?
“Hey, man, that is what I think about every day,” McGee told The Buffalo News from Texas. “The times that I’ve missed games, you sit there and watch other cornerbacks making plays and think, ‘Aw, man, I would just love to make a play right now, get an interception, anything to be out on the field.’
“You wonder, ‘What would it have been like if I stayed healthy?’ That’s what I don’t want to leave the game wondering. I know it would eat me up for the rest of my life. I want to be healthy for a season and then be able to leave the game with my head held high.”
McGee, a 2003 fourth-round draft choice, spent a decade with the Bills. He started double-digit games from 2004 through 2009. He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2004 and notched a career-high four interceptions in 2005 and 2007.
But he managed to play all 16 games just once in his career.
He ended three of his past four seasons on injured reserve. Over the past three years, he has played only 22 games, starting 10.
McGee’s recovery from a torn left patellar tendon suffered in 2011 carried over into last season, when he played seven games and started zero. The surgery he had in November was unrelated to the patellar tear.
“Terrence has been a contributor to the Bills organization for 10 years and we thank him for his efforts on the field and off,” Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said in a statement. “We wish him the best of luck in the future.”
McGee expected the Bills to cut him, especially after they unloaded linebacker Nick Barnett and safety George Wilson on Monday.
Yet when the phone call came Thursday morning, McGee said he “felt blindsided” because it came a day after he had visited One Bills Drive, had his knee inspected and received what he said was positive feedback from secondary coach Donnie Henderson.
“I could see it coming, but not the next day,” McGee said of being cut. “Maybe a month down the road or something. That’s why I felt blindsided. It still caught me off guard.
“But what kind of argument can I make? I was there for 10 years. I’ve been hurt a lot. They didn’t have to give me too much of a reason why they had to move on. You’ve just got to accept it. I understand. It’s nothing I can get mad at.”
McGee, 32, conceded he will need to prove he’s healthy before another team will take a chance on him. He also confessed to being dejected about his recurring injuries.
But he insisted he is focused on getting his knee rehabilitated and playing again.
“It’s very discouraging because you wonder, ‘Even when I do get healthy, am I going to go out there and do something else to set me back again?’ Playing football, you know there’s a high chance an injury can happen again,” McGee said. “But I can’t think like that. I just need to get healthy and get back at it.”
McGee added he would love the chance to re-sign with the Bills if they decided they wanted him back later, although he didn’t get the impression the Bills were entertaining the same notion.
“I’m trying to get my knee back to 100 percent,” McGee said. “I definitely have not thrown in the towel. That’s not even in my brain right now.
“Hopefully, when I get healthy I’ll have a shot at a couple teams and show what I can do. Once my knee’s all right, I’m all right.”