Eric Wood felt like he was missing out when the Bills started their offseason program back in April, and he knows that bug will bite him again once the games begin in September. And he’s even struggled when people have congratulated him the few last months on retiring, since walking away wasn’t really his choice.
But then he snaps back to the reality of what came to light in January.
“The second I want to play again and get upset my career’s over is the second I need to think back to how close I was to really being messed up for the rest of my life, and not being able to live a normal life and raise a family the way I want to,” Wood says now. “So yeah, the timing stunk. But all things considered, we come off a playoff berth, I get out, and I can walk and play golf and run around with my kids.
“I was very close to that not being able to happen. I feel very blessed in that regard.”
Wood can finally talk about this now, because the settlement between him and the Bills was finalized last week. The call he’d been waiting for came on May 31. The team was releasing him in the wake of a career-ending neck injury discovered after the season, bringing closure to a five-month ordeal that wasn’t always comfortable for anyone involved.
We’ll get to your mail in a minute, but we’ll kick things off by catching up with a player who spent nine years in the NFL, made a Pro Bowl and became one of the more popular guys off the field that I’ve seen in any locker room.
This is minicamp week around the league, and that’s another checkpoint among the things that are coming out of Wood’s calendar after all those years in Buffalo. And while he doesn’t feel this one quite like he did the start of the offseason program, or like he will miss game day, there’s still a little itch to be out there. But mostly, this week, he’s just turned into a fan.
“It’s kinda funny, I’m a glorified fan. I’m a fan of the team, an alum of the team—it’s a way different perspective,” Wood says. “With minicamp starting, I’m wondering how Josh Allen is doing, and how Nate [Peterman] and AJ [McCarron] are doing. I’ve resorted to fandom. I want to know how the new quarterbacks look, how the draft picks look. So I follow it on social media and ask some of the guys, to stay informed.”
He can laugh now, but things weren’t so funny a few months back. His exit physical in January uncovered an injury to a disk at the C2 and C3 vertebrae in his neck, threatening the spinal cord. The Bills doctors said they wouldn’t be able to clear Wood to play football going forward. He reached out to other doctors and sent the scans to specialists, and the message coming back was the same: They could operate to relieve the disk, but they wouldn’t green-light his return to the football field.
For salary cap reasons, and before they reached the settlement, the Bills wanted Wood to stay on the roster until June 1, which he agreed to. That wasn’t easy. At the time, there was frustration that he couldn’t carry out the retirement announcement on his own terms, or talk much publicly about what happened. Five months later, that’s water under the bridge and he says it “all worked out the way it was supposed to.”
So yes, he can root for his old coaches and teammates. He’s texted every now and again with Bills coach Sean McDermott, talked to GM Brandon Beane last week and keeps in touch with the guys he played with.
“If they won a Super Bowl,” he says, “I’d be at the parade.”
Wood is otherwise settling into post-NFL life. For starters, he’s down from 305 to 250 pounds, and looking shed more.
“That’s definitely part of the plan, and a lot of that stems from big injuries and aches and pains,” he says. “I used to have warm up for so long to practice. And I still felt good practicing, but I could never just go out and run. I do workouts now where I’ll start off jogging. That would’ve been a nightmare for me as a player.”
Meanwhile, he sold his house in Buffalo and moved his wife, Leslie, 3-year-old daughter Grace and 5-month-old son Garrett full-time to Louisville, where he has long planned to settle.
For now, the idea of the hours spent at the NFL or major college level are enough to keep him away from coaching, but he’s dabbling elsewhere, having spent time with his Buffalo-based foundation and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, while taking meetings to figure out what’s next. A desire to stay connected to football has him considering broadcasting, too.
As for his physical wellbeing, he knows he’s not completely out of the woods. He still may need the neck surgery, if he winds up with neck pain or numbness in his extremities, symptoms common with his injury (his were the stingers he suffered last season) that he somehow avoided.
More than anything, he’s good with where he’s at coming off a long run as a really good NFL offensive lineman. He still has some soreness from playing, but the weight loss has his joints feeling better, and he figures the improvement will keep coming. He knows things could have ended uglier than they did, without question. And that’s goes for both his injury, and his relationship with the team.
Instead he’s watching during minicamp like so many of you, trying to figure out how his team’s rookie quarterback is slinging it, and waiting to seeing where the coach and GM are going to take his guys next.
“I’m looking forward to continuing the relationships with those guys, because I have a tremendous amount respect for them,” he says. “I love what they’re doing up there [in Buffalo], and anything I can do to help them, I’d love to be a resource. I’d love to stay involved in some capacity, even if it’s just talking on the phone here or there.”
Now we can get to the mail …
From @sandyjr1: What the hell will we talk about until football starts?
Let’s start here—contracts! We’ve heard a lot about the holdouts this week, so it was good to see what led to a deal getting done, with guard Zack Martin agreeing to a six-year, $84 million extension in Dallas. The Cowboys now have Martin inked through 2024, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick signed through 2023, second-round pick Connor Williams done through 2021, and La’el Collins locked up for this year and next. That’s good stability for the team’s biggest strength. And Martin coming in at $14 million per year adds to the resetting of the offensive line market this offseason (Nate Solder got $15.5 million per from the Giants, Andrew Norwell $13.3 million per from the Jags), which should be good for 2019 free agents like Atlanta’s Jake Matthews, Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan, Seattle’s Duane Brown, the Rams’ Rodger Saffold and New England’s Shaq Mason.
From Matthew Lownes: In a perfect world the Jets can trade Teddy Bridgewater once, and if, another starter goes down with injury. Should that be the Jets’ goal with Teddy, to trade him? Or should they be trying to make him a starter so they don’t have to rush Sam Darnold out there?
Teddy Bridgewater has been outstanding this spring for the Jets. And while the coaches still need to see him take a hit or two and get back up, they’re optimistic he can be a solid NFL starter again. So the idea would be to get him snaps in preseason games to a) reacclimate him to contact and b) showcase him for the rest of the league. And then, I’d say, you make a decision in August based on what the return would be, and how he looks versus where Sam Darnold is in his development. Remember, you also have Josh McCown to tread water with if Darnold needs to sit. And who knows—maybe you like Bridgewater so much, the price to deal him off rises a little bit? What I do know now is it looks like the Jets are developing a problem that’s a pretty good one to have.
From @meine_NFL: Didn’t hear about a game in Germany in a while and seeing cuts to London (three instead of four games). Is the NFL slowly backing away from Europe and on to other markets (Mexico, Asia)?
I don’t think so, Meine. I think the NFL’s desire is to see the London plan through, then duplicate it elsewhere, rather than just set up shop in a handful of cities. They scaled back this year to three games in the UK in large part because it’s the first year of the new stadium at Tottenham, in which the league made an eight-figure investment, which shows how deep they are in to make the UK work. My feeling is that by 2022, whether there’s a team there full-time or not, the league would like to have the equivalent to an NFL home schedule (eight games) in London. And then they’d try to execute the same sort of focused plan somewhere else in Europe over an extended period, with Germany near/at the top of the list.
From @dsmiller22629: What is your opinion of [Mitch] Trubisky? Did da Bears finally find their franchise QB?
We didn’t see enough of Trubisky to know anything for sure. He flashed his athleticism, and his accuracy on the move, and his instincts for the position in 2017—but I do like that the Bears are doing what they can to give him every chance, much like what the Eagles did for Carson Wentz when Philadelphia hired Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo, and signed Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Brooks. Bears coach Matt Nagy is a creative offensive mind and a former quarterback himself, OC Mark Helfrich can incorporate option-based concepts that Trubisky ran in college, and Chicago signed Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. At the very least, that’ll help the Bears brass, and the rest of us, get a clearer read on where Trubisky could go by the end of this season.
From @RNBWCV: Do you see a realistic chance the San Francisco 49ers will be the first team from the NFC West (since the realignment) to make the playoffs the year after finishing in 4th place?
Yes, I think it is realistic. By now, we all know how brilliant an offensive tactician Kyle Shanahan is, and what he can do with Jimmy Garoppolo—I believe in those two, and that’s a good place to start. I also like how specific Shanahan and GM John Lynch are in what they look for to fill roles (running back Jerick McKinnon’s a good example of that, as is center Weston Richburg). And so I think they should be better, and they’ll still get the benefit of a last-place schedule. On the flip side, coming out of nowhere like they did at the end of last year is different from managing high expectations, which is what they’re facing now.
From @oCSquareDo: What are your thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s future with the Ravens?
To me, having coaching buy-in on a different style of quarterback like Jackson is crucial. That’s why having John Harbaugh stand up at the beginning of Baltimore’s final set of draft meetings and declare to the scouting side that he and his staff wanted Jackson (the result, I’m told, of Harbaugh’s meetings with OC Marty Morhinweg, QBs coach James Urban and senior assistant Greg Roman) was important. So that’s a good place to start, and a reason to be optimistic. My concerns would be around potential changes in coaching, and with Jackson’s ability to stay healthy if he’s running a lot. But there’s no question there’s a lot to work with there. Which is why the Ravens were toying with playing him—gasp—at other positions this week.
From @jrichards1227: When do you think a Khalil Mack deal gets done?
This one—along with Aaron Donald’s deal—is difficult. Why? We wrote about it in the June 4 MMQB. The divide between what the top quarterbacks make and what the top players elsewhere make has never been greater. When Matt Ryan signed his deal, it signified quarterbacks breaking the $30 million-per-year barrier before any player at any other position got to $20 million per. Typically, the top defensive player has made somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of what the top quarterback makes. That would be $22.5 million to $25.5 million per year, which is a big leap from where Von Miller stands now as the game’s highest paid defensive player (just over $19 million per). And that means, for the Raiders and the Rams, these deals won’t be easy to do.
From@TonyJWheat: Could Derrius Guice wind up being the best pro back from this class?
Maybe. The Redskins love what they’ve seen from him so far, even before the pads go on, in his patient running style, his ability to explode, and his vision, as well as his passion for football (always important for teams to see with guys who have character questions). He also should benefit from some read-option elements that the Redskins will employ with Alex Smith bringing a run threat to the offense from the quarterback spot. (And so if you want an early fantasy alert, there it is.) I still think Saquon Barkley’s going to wind up being the best back in the class—the Giants are over the moon with a guy we already knew was a generational talent—but Guice has a good shot to be No. 2 in a really good crop of backs.
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