BY JONAH BRONSTEIN
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — “Chris Kelsay is a good football player.”
In the same Southern drawl, you can impersonate Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey saying the same thing about the Buffalo Bills veteran defender.
Nix said it two years ago, after Kelsay received a lucrative contract extension in the midst of his embarrassing acclimation to the outside linebacker position.
Gailey said it during May minicamps, after the Bills had invested a small fortune in free agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and raised the question of whether Kelsay, one of the defensive captains, was suddenly expendable.
Look further down the line if you’re trying to tab Kelsay as one of the “surprise cuts” in September. When training camp opened Thursday, Kelsay was right where he’s always been, in the front of the line for position drills and working with the starting front line in team workouts. Anderson and Shawne Merriman rotated with him at right defensive end, but barring injury, Kelsay is in line to be starting opposite Williams when the season opens Sept. 9.
The outcry over Kelsay’s extension seems silly now. The only other edge rushers on the roster at the time were Aaron Maybin and Arthur Moats, then a rookie who had yet to play a down on defense. Later that fall, the Bills made a desperate waiver claim on a broken-down Merriman, who has yet to prove he can still play football.
Meanwhile, Kelsay has proven himself to be the most dependable defender on the team over the last season-and-half, even while playing out position. A good football player, no matter where you deploy him.
“That’s the bottom line,” Gailey said.
And now, Kelsay, like so many other players on this Bills’ defense, is being put back at his natural spot, and being asked to do what he does best: execute his assignments, fill his gap, make the plays that prevent themselves, and minimize mistakes. He’ll no longer be asked to ignite the pass rush. That’s Williams’ burden now, and in obvious passing situations, Kelsay will likely be off the field, watching Anderson and Merriman.
So what if a two-down player who only gets the occasional sack isn’t worth the $5.75 million cap hit Kelsay counts for this season. But would you say he’s worth the $3.5 million in actual salary he’s being paid? Mario might have four times as many sacks, but he won’t have four times the overall impact.
Just like Jeremy Lin is worth more to his team because of his marketing potential, Kelsay is worth more to the Bills because of what he does off the field. Nix said as much when Kelsay got his new deal.
“He exemplifies what what we want players to do and how we want them to be,” Nix said. “So that’s the reason he’s here.”
“Kelsay,” said fellow team captain George Wilson, “he’s not one of those big rah rah guys, he doesn’t do a lot of talking, he does a great job of leading by example, through the offseason program, through giving great effort during practice, through showing our young guys on the team how to practice, how to prepare for the game.and then when you get out there on game day, he’s giving you everything he has out there on the field.”
The Bills didn’t break the bank with Kelsay’s contract. It didn’t prevent them from extending every key player they have wanted to keep in the last two years. It didn’t prevent them from making Mario Williams the richest defensive player in the history of football. It didn’t even prevent them from making a luxury purchase on Anderson.
And if it had even a nominal effect on the apparent culture change surrounding these Bills, it was worth every penny.Contact sports editor Jonah Bronstein at email@example.com.