At age 28, with four seasons with the Bills behind him and three other teams on his resume, Scott Chandler knows nothing is guaranteed. The NFL can be a cold, unsentimental and unpredictable business. Unless you’re a star, you never know what will happen from one year to the next.
Chandler has been around long enough to learn that he can’t become immersed with what awaits ahead. Sure, he would like to sign another contract with the Bills, the team that gave him his best opportunity and allowed him to become a polished tight end. He earned a darned good living in his three-plus seasons here.
But there are no promises.
Chandler is acutely aware that his career already could have ended numerous times. He was waived by San Diego, the Giants and Dallas before the struggling Bills signed him in 2010. He had a good season last year before blowing out his knee in the season finale against Miami. A year later, after a career year, his days in Buffalo could be numbered.
“I love Buffalo,” Chandler said. “It’s hard to imagine anything else, but you know, this business is funny. I didn’t imagine myself not being a Charger, but pretty quick I was no longer a Charger. I was Cowboy, wasn’t a Cowboy, was a Giant, wasn’t a Giant, then I was a Cowboy again.
“We’d all like to have careers like Jason Witten and Antonio Gates, where you just stay with one team, but that’s not the reality of the league. I don’t know what the organization’s plans are, but I owe a lot to the organization.”
Chandler already posted career highs with 50 catches and 600 yards this season. He would have been more productive with a stable quarterback situation. At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, Chandler is a load with a knack for getting open. He’s in the second year of a two-year deal worth $5.45 million, a good score for someone who was once clinging to the league.
He can thank Buddy Nix for the opportunity, if not the healthy bank account. Nix was a scout in San Diego when he brought in Chandler and a GM with the Bills when he claimed the tight end off waivers. He’s a good guy and a good teammate who quickly evolved into a productive, accountable leader.
Why wouldn’t they want him back?
The Bills would like to keep him. Dependable tight ends are hard to find, but they need to make sure the money is right before making another deal with him. He would like to stay, but the contract needs to work for him, too. The uncertainty can drive a player mad, which is something he’s been trying to avoid.
“If you start looking too far into the future, you start to get yourself into trouble,” Chandler said. “You can’t predict that stuff. Enjoy every game.”
There have been whispers along One Bills Drive that they’re looking for an upgrade. The Bills had all season to offer him a contract extension and ensure he remained in Buffalo. If they see him as a part-timer on offense, they don’t want to pay him big money. As it stands now, he’s down to his final game with the Bills.
Don’t worry about him, by the way. Chandler has accomplished enough in the past two years to land somewhere. New England, for example, was loaded at tight end a year ago. Aaron Hernandez was hauled away in handcuffs. Rob Gronkowski suffered his second major injury in two years.
So you never know.
Chandler was coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL last spring when the Bills drafted Chris Gragg in the seventh round. Gragg showed little in his first season. Lee Smith is used mostly as a blocker. A few weeks ago, in yet another attempt to strengthen the position, the Bills took a flier on talented but injury-prone tight end Tony Moeaki.
Moeaki is a former third-round pick of the Chiefs who has spent the better part of the past three seasons on the injured list. The Bills signed him to a two-year contract in what appeared to be a minor transaction. But if he can stay in one piece, he’s the type of player who can give the Bills a very good weapon at the position.
If anyone knows as much, it’s Chandler.
The two played college ball together at the University of Iowa and remain good friends. Chandler was two years older and a mentor of sorts for Moeaki, who is a gifted athlete at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds. Chandler didn’t have any problem with the signing. If he were running the show, he would have made the same decision.
“Tony is a great football player,” Chandler said. “I played with him in college and seen what he did in the NFL. If I’m the GM and I get a chance to bring in a Tony Moeaki in December, I don’t care what I’ve got, I’m bringing him in. If he can stay healthy, you stole him. You got a steal.”
Chandler would rather return to Buffalo, but he’s also in a great position. He’s one game from becoming an unrestricted free agent. He’s not about to take the game Sunday for granted after injuring himself last season. But, finally, he’s on the good side of a business that can be cold and unsentimental.
He’s intent on accepting whatever time he has left with the Bills. He had a ball Sunday when the Bills rubbed out the Dolphins in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills will finish off the season Sunday in Gillette Stadium against the Patriots. The two games could mark his last home game and last game ever for the Bills.
“I learned a lot of the first four years and really got some perspective, what it means to play in this league and what a privilege it is,” Chandler said. “I think it’s helped me since I’ve been here. I got injured last year. You see how quickly it can be taken from you. It’s not a game you’re going to play forever.”