Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was holed up in a hotel lobby, following the Mario Williams saga last month like any other fan.
"I was in Costa Rica for a wedding, and there was only Internet access in the lobby. So the three-day ordeal that it was, every 20 minutes I was walking down to the lobby looking at my phone, looking at my phone," Fitzpatrick said Monday. "When it finally happened, obviously I was pretty excited about it. I got a lot of calls and texts. I'm really glad he's here."
Fitzpatrick got a chance Monday to introduce himself to Williams, the team's $100 million defensive end, and catch up with the rest of his teammates as the Bills reported back to Orchard Park for the start of voluntary offseason workouts. Other than a few grumbles about the snow, spirits were high as the Bills got back to work.
"Guys want to be here. At the end of the day, we're all friends and we're all family, so to get in here to see the people you haven't seen since the end of the season is big," Fitzpatrick said. "It's another morale boost and kind of gets you going."
Despite their on-field struggles last season, the Bills had a tight-knit locker room. Williams has gotten that sense now that he's met most of his teammates.
"Everybody's in there talking, interacting, talking about how the family is, how things are back home, so it's definitely the type of group I want to be around," he said.
Williams' arrival as the most high-profile free-agent signing in franchise history has raised expectations among fans and players alike.
"Just talking to a bunch of fans around town, they let us know how excited they are about things. We sense that. We know that," running back Fred Jackson said. "At the same time, we feel the exact same way. We feel like the organization has done some things to give us a great opportunity to go out and win football games, so we're putting a lot of expectations on ourselves."
One notable absentee was receiver Stevie Johnson, whose wife gave birth to the couple's third child last week. Otherwise, attendance was nearly 100 percent.
"That's the way it should be," Williams said. "We should all be out here getting better, putting in the work."
Think back to the first day of school each year. That was the vibe Monday inside the team's fieldhouse.
"Just getting everybody back in and seeing what kind of shape everybody is in. Really catch up with guys and see how their offseason was," Fitzpatrick said when asked what the team wanted to accomplish. "A lot of guys had different surgeries and injuries they had to heal up. So some of it is just seeing how they're doing."
One of those players is Williams, who played just five games with Houston last season because of a torn chest muscle. He said he's fully recovered.
"I've been away from football for a while, too," he said. "I'm extremely anxious to get out there."
Monday's workout was the start of the team's nine-week offseason program. The new collective bargaining agreement limits team programs to just nine weeks, broken into three phases. The first two weeks are focused on strength and conditioning. There weren't even footballs present on the field, as per the new rules.
The second phase of the program permits players to start film study and work with coaches on individual instruction, but it prohibits drills featuring the offense and defense together.
The final phase lasts four weeks. It starts with the first of 10 organized team activities May 29 and is the only one in which players will wear helmets (none include pads). It ends with the only mandatory session, a minicamp to be held June 19-21.
"We know what we have in front of us. We know what we need to do to get the job done and get to work," Williams said. "I don't care if you're a first-day [here] guy or a guy who's been here since Day One, there's things that can change around here, and that's definitely what we're going after."
Restricted free agent guards Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart signed their qualifying tender offers with the team Monday, ensuring two key pieces to the interior offensive line will be back.
Urbik started 13 games at right guard and center last season, while Rinehart played in all 16, including 12 starts.
Jackson, who's entering the final year of his contract, said "it's just not the time" to be worried about a new contract.
"This week, [the front office has] the draft coming up. That's what they're focusing on. I'll just continue to be patient and see what happens," he said. "It's like I've said all along, 'I think something will get done.' [General Manager] Buddy [Nix] said that they want to get something done, so I'll just continue to put faith in that."
Jackson is recovered from the broken bone in his lower right leg that ended his season after 10 games in 2011.
"I got medically released about three months ago," he said. "I've been training, and nothing's changed."
Jackson said he never considered skipping the workouts, even though they are voluntary.
"I'm just going to continue to show up, be with my teammates and play football. That's what I do. This is just part of that process," he said.
The Bills have announced that individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public July 10. Pre-sale for season ticket holders will start May 16; they have first access to individual game tickets. Group tickets will go on sale June 9.