Chris Kelsay realized a career goal Wednesday when he decided to retire from the Buffalo Bills.
“I always said from Day One when Mr. Wilson drafted me in 2003 that I wanted to end my career a Buffalo Bill and that came to fruition today and I feel very blessed to have that opportunity,” said Kelsay, who traveled in from his offseason home in Nebraska and met with General Manager Buddy Nix on Wednesday afternoon to inform him of his decision. “I just felt physically — and mentally, too — that I was ready to go in a different direction, so that’s what we decided. There’s a sense of relief there, so I know I made the right decision.”
Kelsay missed seven of the final eight games in 2012 and ended the season on injured reserve because of a torn ligament in his neck. Though he had received clearance from team doctors to resume physical activities, the thought of another injury, especially to his neck, factored into his decision.
“Even though it was a ligament issue and not a structural issue, it’s still your neck, and obviously with three young kids and hopefully many more years ahead of me, I didn’t want to leave the game broke down,” he said on a conference call with Western New York reporters.
Kelsay was also wary of having to prove himself to another new coaching staff, with Doug Marrone taking over after Chan Gailey was fired at the end of last season. During his 10 years, Kelsay played for five different head coaches (one interim) and four defensive coordinators, including two the last seasons in George Edwards and Dave Wannstedt.
“It definitely played a role in it, but it wasn’t a deciding factor,” Kelsay said of a new coaching staff coming in. “It’s always tough to have to come in and re-establish yourself and earn the respect and the trust and the confidence of your coaching staff. Obviously that’s something I’ve had to do in prior years, and something that I’m proud to say I was able to do. It weighs into it, a whole new system, a whole new scheme, kind of a hybrid defense, 4-3, 3-4 mix. There’s no question I feel like I could play in it, but at the same time, I’m just very happy with where I’m at and looking to retirement.”
Kelsay said it never got to the point where he discussed what his role would be with the defense under new coordinator Mike Pettine in 2013 — or whether he was asked to restructure his contract by the team.
“When I sat down with Buddy, I told him basically the thought process my wife and I have gone through over the course of the last couple months and really even into the end of last season, and it never really came to that. We were kind of on the same page, I think, when I told him that I wanted to retire a Buffalo Bill. I think Buddy was happy for me and happy for my family and that’s really” as far is it got.
Kelsay’s retirement saves the Bills $5.175 million against the 2013 contract. He was in the third year of a four-year contract that he signed in September 2010 that had a maximum value of $24 million. He earned $15 million of that. Kelsay earned an estimated $36 million from the Bills over his 10-year career.
Kelsay’s retirement — along with the recent releases of veteran defenders Terrence McGee, Nick Barnett and George Wilson, leaves the Bills $28.425 million under the expected 2013 salary cap.
A second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2003, Kelsay was a three-time Bills defensive captain. He became a starter in his second season, and from 2005 through 2011 started all 105 games in which he played. He recorded 32.5 sacks, ranking ninth in team history, but struggled to crack the starting lineup last season after the team added high-priced free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Kelsay played about 50 percent of the snaps in his eight games.
“I just felt like as much as I kind of went back and forth on it, I believe if you are thinking about retirement that much you are already retired,” he said. “I am happy with the decision that we made. I look forward to the next chapter of my life.”
“Chris has been the consummate professional throughout his career and we will miss him,” Nix said in a release prepared by the team. “He always gave 100 percent, regardless of the situation and regardless of the score. He did everything with class and was an excellent team leader.”
Kelsay and his wife, Natalie, have two daughers, Harper and Avery, and a son, Rhett. The family will make their primary residence in Nebraska, but Kelsay made it clear he holds Buffalo close to his heart.
“It’s been a huge part of our lives. All three of my kids were born in Buffalo,” he said. “We’re very much involved in the community.”
Kelsay’s message to fans frustrated by the current 13-year playoff drought: Continue to be patient.
“Buffalo Bills fans, the true fans … there’s nothing like them. I think they just need to continue to support the organization. We’re going to turn the corner, it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “The staff they’ve put together here, I see good things in the near future for the Buffalo Bills.”