Free agency usually gives Drayton Florence a sense of enjoyment although this year was slightly different. Because of the lockout, the veteran cornerback knew the process would end quickly and -- if the offer were right -- he would remain with the Buffalo Bills.
While others were in pursuit, they didn't overshadow the appeal of remaining in Buffalo for Florence, who last week signed a three-year, $15 million deal. Florence's presence solidifies the team's cornerback position, which now has quality depth and experience.
Florence, Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin are the top returning veterans who will be battling for two starting spots. Florence, 30, beat out McKelvin last year to start the regular season but McKelvin started 14 games because McGee was injured. McGee is back healthy and draft pick Aaron Williams is playing well at the start of camp, which gives the Bills more options at corner.
"In this league, you better have three quality corners," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "With the addition of him, it gives us three quality corners that can go out and play on a weekly basis. If Aaron [Williams] comes in and does what we think he can do, it gives us more depth. We have a chance to be very solid at that position."
With the business end of his career secure, Florence's focus turns to helping improve the Bills' defense, a unit that has shown signs of life in the first four days of training camp even without Florence, key free agent addition Nick Barnett and draft pick Kelvin Sheppard. Florence, Barnett and the other free agent signees are eligible to begin practicing Thursday, while Sheppard is out at least a week with an injury.
"Obviously it was good to get a deal done as quickly as we did," Florence said. "I'm just excited about being back and being familiar with the system that's already in place."
But because of the lockout, there were some tense times during the offseason.
"We didn't know when football was going to be back and when it came back I knew the process would be quick and it was," Florence said. "I was relieved to know that I got my deal done, where I was headed and with my family situation. Everyone knows what's going on. The most difficult part was waiting and seeing what was going to happen before things panned out the way they did."
Free agency has had ups and downs for Florence. After playing for San Diego from 2003 to '07, he signed a six-year, $36 million contract with Jacksonville in 2008 but was cut after one season. He later signed with the Bills, reuniting Florence with Bills GM Buddy Nix, who drafted him in San Diego. This was his third go-around in free agency.
"You have a lot of friends who play around the league and you never know where guys are going to end up," he said. "In negotiations, we fought for guys to get free agency after four years because that's what everybody wants, they want that opportunity to go somewhere else or stay where they are and eventually get paid for it. During this whole lockout process everyone is seeing it's a business before anything and [free agency] is the business part of it for the players. They want to get those contracts and advance in their careers."
Florence said Carolina, the Jets and Houston showed interest and he owed it to himself to go through the free agency process.
"As a businessman you have to keep all your options open," he said. "That is something I go through each and every time I go through free agency. I could have easily took the same deal or made a little bit more money somewhere else but they say the grass isn't always greener on the other side. The Bills stepped up and made a good offer and we took it."
Florence likes that defensive coordinator George Edwards wants to run more press coverage and apply pressure on the quarterback off the edge more so than last season. The Bills recorded just 27 sacks, tied with Baltimore for 27th in the league, but they expect that total to increase significantly with a healthy Shawne Merriman in the lineup.
"Talking with Coach Edwards and the things we're going to do on defense, getting that pass rush off the edge with Merriman coming in and having a good season, that's going to make our job easier on the back end," Florence said. "I like the guys I'm playing with in the secondary, good young guys like Jairus Byrd and George Wilson, so it's going to be a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays on defense."