On Sunday afternoon I reached a personal milestone, though I’m not exactly sure it’s one I should undergo pride in. I reached my 10,000th tweet on Twitter and feeling spirited, I used the personal landmark to take an admitted pot shot at Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner.
“This is my 10,000th tweet. I’ll use it to say what a huge fan I am of Donte Whitner and hope he’s back in Buffalo.” I mockingly quipped.
Being a good sport while clearly recognizing my shabby attempt at cynicism, Whitner re-tweeted the 140 character statement with a “Thanks ha.” reply. I’d provide a direct link to Whitner’s response, but fact is he blocked me from commenting on his Twitter several months ago. Frankly, I’m surprised he answered at all. Clearly, he must’ve been bored.
Anyone who’s followed Buffalo Sports Daily over the past year knows that notwithstanding me effectively being a nobody hack in the eyes of the mainstream world while conversely, Whitner is a multi-millionaire football player, the two of us have some history together, at least in the internet world. Over the months I’ve written some poignant, disparaging and at times harsh/borderline iniquitous things about Whitner and in return he offered to basically beat the shit out of me for my efforts.
I stand by almost everything I’ve ever written about the man. I don’t think he’s an impact playmaking safety at the NFL level. I think he’s established a repulsive style of sensitivity to what’s been written and said about him in publications and blogs. I hate that he’s skirmished with fans and more than just a few times was down-right insulting and combative via his Twitter. He’s put his foot in his mouth more than once with outlandish statements and guarantees he didn’t personally back up on the field.
Most importantly, I feel he was flat-out off his rocker to publicly claim he’s worthy of receiving top five safety money in his next contract. I’m sure he’ll receive a hefty salary in his next deal, but the soon-to-be free agent isn’t going to find it in Buffalo. He knows it and so does Buddy Nix and the Bills’ front office.
However, there’s also a few items I need to get off my chest. I no longer think Whitner is a bad dude at all. I’ve talked with several current and a few former Bills players and to a man they say Whitner truly is a stand up guy and a leader in the locker room. I hear persistently that for better and worse the man wears his heart on his sleeve. The tears that came from his eyes following an overtime loss last season weren’t alligator tears—they were real. His teammates genuinely like him and the guy does an awful lot for charity that doesn’t go reported in the newspapers.
I don’t feel he’s worth the money he thinks he deserves to remain in Buffalo. That’s not going to change. Regardless of defensive scheme or players around him during his tenure, five interceptions in five seasons doesn’t do it for me and certainly doesn’t equate to several million over multiple years. The Bills have pretty good depth at safety, a lot of holes to fill and a limited amount of resources to do it. It would be as foolish for Nix to hand out $6 million annually to Whitner as it was last year to Chris Kelsay. In fact, I regard them as the same type of player—try harders liked in the locker room but not impact players on the field, at least not on a consistent basis.
But I’m also beginning to feel an authentic sense of guilt for depicting Whitner as a villain and continuously pointing out only the negative things in columns to the point of being impossible for him to look good. Whitner is no villain and in reality, there probably isn’t a player on the team and maybe the entire league that wants to win and be great more than him. The more I’ve learned about him via other players and people who know him, the more I recognize the man would walk through fire to be a part of a championship team. He wants to be the best, works his tail off year round and doesn’t take short cuts to get there.
He played… and excelled at Ohio State and put himself in position to be a high draft pick. It’s not his fault the Bills selected him with the eighth overall pick, perhaps unduly burdening him with incongruous expectations upon his arrival. You have to acknowledge at least part of the reason he hasn’t reached his maximum potential is because he hasn’t exactly had the most ferocious pass rush in front of him. The Bills have more/less stunk during his five years here because and as Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says you are. The Bills are 31-49 since Whitner arrived and though It’s clearly read as me putting that onus on him, it’s hardly just his fault.
Assuming a collective bargaining agreement soon gets done and Whitner ends up being unrestricted, he’s almost certain to go to another organization. Perhaps it will be one with a more established foundation around him so he can simply be a piece of the puzzle instead of being asked to solve the whole thing. Conceivably he’ll transform into the type of player Bills fans hoped he’d be when his name was called in 2006.
He’d probably fit in great with the New York Giants and their defensive coordinator, former Bills coach Perry Fewell. His hometown of Cleveland could be a solid fit and especially with former head coach Dick Jauron now on their staff. The Oakland Raiders , Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings all could be looking for safeties. Unquestionably, Whitner is going to draw interest when player window shopping finally commences.
Whitner is never going to be the next Ronnie Lott, Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu. But teams around the league and even the Bills could do far, far worse than having him on their roster. For Buffalo, his return or lack of one has to do with numbers more than anything.
Oddly enough, I’m actually starting to hope success happens for him. In reality, Donte isn’t an awful guy at all– and I’m not just saying that because my doctor told me boxing a NFL player might be hazardous to my health.