Thoughts on the Divorce Between the Bills and Aaron Schobel

My initial reaction to the Bills and defensive end Aaron Schobel ending their nine year relationship last Thursday wasn’t one of shock or disappointment.   Essentially, it is what it is.

He spent nine seasons rushing the passer for the Bills, starting 107 straight games.  His 78 career sacks, second only in Bills history to Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.  Schobel led the Bills in sacks in eight of nine seasons.  Along with Smith, Schobel is the only other defensive player in Bills history with four seasons of 10 plus sacks.

But by the end of last season and as he began talking about his possible retirement shorty after the conclusion of 2009, I knew Schobel’s last game in a Bills uniform was the season finale victory against the Indianapolis Colts.  The writing was on the wall.  The Bills completed another miserable season and were facing the prospects of trying to rebuild back to respectability yet again.

From that vantage point, it didn’t make much sense to me that Schobel would return.  He’ll be 33 next month and he’s in the twilight of his playing days, and while he’s never gone public with demands or expressed his full displeasure with the organization these last nine years, I fully believe Schobel when he said he was relieved that the Bills decided to move forward without him.

Schobel never struck me as a guy who would walk into Buddy Nix’s office and demand to be traded or released instead of coming back to what could be another long, losing season in Buffalo.  Certainly in nine years, I’m guessing there was a time or two Schobel felt like demanding to head for the exits.  But that was never his way.  His mouth never did his talking; his play on the field did.

You won’t find me complaining about Schobel because there’s nothing for me to complain about.  He never made off the field headlines with strip club altercations, domestic disturbances or drug charges.  He was a very good player for the Bills, not a game changer or cornerstone, but a player you never questioned whether or not he was going to show up on Sundays.

For too many years during his tenure in Buffalo, he was the Bills’ only legitimate pass rushing threat.  There’s no denying that Bruce Smith will go down as the one of the best defensive players ever in Buffalo and the NFL.  Schobel came to the Bills at a time when Buffalo was looking for the slightest pass rusher who could even get to the quarterback, let alone rank second all time in history in sacks. But nine years later, now it’s the rest of the Bills’ roster looking at one another wondering who’s going to pick up the slack Schobel left behind.

Indeed, there were numerous things that Tom Donahoe did very wrong, but giving the devil his due, Donahoe got this one right.  Schobel was the second pick under the Tom Donahoe era and in a decade where the Bills have had way too many draft misses, Schobel turned out to be a hit.  Even if the teams he played for didn’t.

Schobel will probably be viewed as a good football player who played for a bad bunch of teams, and it’s hard to argue if that’s your opinion.  He witnessed only one winning season with the Bills in 2004 and he’s never tasted the playoffs.  From the Monday night debacles, rebuilding projects and losing seasons, Schobel’s play probably deserved much better than the outcomes he’s been around for.

He’s one of the few Bills who experienced the only victory they’ve had against the New England Patriots in 2003.  Ironically, as dreadfully brutal the Bills have been against the Patriots, Schobel’s 12 sacks against Tom Brady are the most by a defensive player in the NFL.  His only career touchdown came in last season’s opener at New England when Schobel picked off an attempted screen pass from Brady and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.

Schobel’s best season in a  Bills uniform was in 2006 when he recorded a career-best 14 sacks, which was the third highest total that season.  He made his first Pro Bowl appearance and was rewarded with a lucrative 7-year contract worth $50.25 million shortly after the 2006 concluded.

Last season, Schobel returned to his consistent, playing form after a disastrous 2008 season in which he missed 11 games because of a Lisfranc foot injury.  He registered 10 sacks and forced three fumbles, and again proved to be the Bills’ most consistent and threatening pass rusher.

I still think Schobel has some football left in the playing tank, and my guess is that he’ll land with a team that has a chance to make the playoffs and beyond.  It’ll be weird not seeing No.94 on defense for the Bills, but for the best defensive player Buffalo has had for nearly 10 seasons, he deserves a chance to get a taste of what playoff football is like.

Best of luck to Aaron Schobel!

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