BUFFALO, N.Y. — Despite fielding offers from other NFL teams, guard Richie Incognito elected to stay in Buffalo and repay the Bills for giving him a second chance at football.
Incognito acknowledged he accepted a little less money in forgoing free agency and agreeing to a 3-year, $15 million contract with Buffalo on Tuesday.
"I went from a guy nobody wanted to getting redeemed by Buffalo, and I owe them a lot," Incognito said during a conference call. "You can’t put a price tag on that. They believe in me and I believe in them. I’m real excited about where we are headed."
The agreement was reached a day before Incognito was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. A person with direct knowledge of the contract terms provided the details to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the Bills do not release those figures.
The new contract represents the latest step in Incognito's re-emergence. His future had been uncertain before he signed a one-year contract with Buffalo in January 2015. It came after Incognito spent 15 months out of football for being a central figure in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal in 2013.
Incognito emerged as a team leader and key member of an offensive line that helped the Bills lead the league with 2,432 yards rushing. He started all 16 games at left guard.
Entering his 11th season, Incognito referred to the new contract as a "another checkpoint" in his comeback.
"I was just talking with my mom and we were shedding tears of joy," he said. "This is another chapter in my life, and the other chapters have not been so great. But just the resiliency and the dedication and the resolve to get to this point, it definitely plays in the back of my mind."
Incognito said contract talks began a few weeks ago before hitting a snag on terms last week. He said as many as seven teams expressed interest, before he decided to reach a deal with the Bills.
"We definitely took a discount to stay in Buffalo," he said. "I think that's what made negotiations so hot and heavy there for a second because we knew what we had on the outside. But it was important to me to come back. They saved me."
With Incognito on board, the offensive line is set to return intact after Buffalo retained the rights to left tackle Cordy Glenn by designating him the franchise player last week. On Friday, Glenn signed the $13.7 million one-year franchise tender.
The two sides have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term contract.
General manager Doug Whaley called re-signing Glenn and Incognito as his two top off-season priorities.
The deals took some manoeuvring because Buffalo approached the NFL's signing period with little room under the salary cap. The Bills freed up payroll by releasing several high-priced players, including defensive end Mario Williams and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.
Centre Eric Wood welcomed the news by posting a message on his Twitter account, welcoming back both Incognito and Glenn. "Going to be a good year," Wood wrote.
Incognito looked forward to continuing to play alongside Glenn and Wood and, at 32, said: ""I feel like I've got a lot of gas in the tank."
Incognito spent much of last season addressing questions about his past. He was suspended for harassing fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, who had abruptly left the Dolphins during the season. Though Incognito's suspension was lifted following the 2013 season, he was out of football until being signed by the Bills.
He spoke introspectively about what happened during the week leading up to facing his former team for the first time when Buffalo prepared to travel to play at Miami in September.
"I've been through a lot since I've been down there. And there's been a lot of time taken for personal growth and maturation," Incognito said. "Just kind of figuring out who I am and what I wanted out of my career and what I wanted out of my life. ... "I've definitely made some big improvements."