Aaron Williams is currently going through a battle.
It's his head versus his heart.
Those close to the Buffalo Bills' safety are urging him to retire after suffering season-ending neck injuries in consecutive seasons. Williams hears those pleas. He understands them.
But he also is having a hard time saying goodbye to something that's "in his DNA." Football has been a part of his life for so long, that simply walking away isn't as easy as it sounds.
"Don’t know yet," Williams said Monday, when asked what his playing future holds. "It's been back and forth with, 'yeah, I'm going to play this year, to man, I feel good not playing.' I've been doing it for so long, it's pretty much all I've known.
"Change can be scary sometimes, but this offseason made me realize how precious life really is."
Williams came back from a neck injury that ended his 2015 season after just three games. He had a surgery to "shave down" the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. He played in the first seven games this season before suffering another neck injury on a vicious crack-back block by Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry in October.
"Getting carted off again into an ambulance and to the emergency room, having your family being stressed and worrying about my health, it was very frustrating," Williams said, his first public comments since the injury. "It’s one of those things where, I don’t want to make an irrational decision just by coming back today and seeing all the guys and being happy to be here, and then make a decision and say, ‘yeah, I’ll be here.’ Then, maybe two weeks later, they say, 'oh, your health, you can’t do it.' "
Williams planned to meet with the Bills' front office at some point Monday to discuss a timeline on what his future may hold.
"I don’t have an answer for them yet," he said. "I need to know what’s my timeframe is looking like before I make that final decision."
So how will he reach that?
"Just being with my family, talking to some of my teammates, talking to coaches. It’s everything," he said. "Saying my prayers. You know, just realizing what’s important in life. I know football is very important to me, but how important is it for my future?"
The message from his family has been clear.
"They give me their honest opinion. They think that it’s time to step away, honestly," he said. "I can understand where they’re coming from, and how they see that. They see me go off on an ambulance twice in two years now. But, man, you can’t stop what your heart’s telling you to do."
The more Williams spoke, the more he sounded like a man resigned to what's ahead.
"That’s why it’s kind of a hard decision for me to make right now," he said. "In my heart, I haven’t given you guys the Aaron Williams that I know I can give y’all. I’ve been in two unfortunate situations where I’ve been out (for) the season. It’s very frustrating because I know that I can be an impact player, and I can help this team out and I can help this city bring a playoff appearance and playoff wins, if not a Super Bowl. If I’m not out there, it’s terrible."
At one point, Williams stopped to compose himself.
"I’m getting emotional talking about it," he said. Before, I hated talking to you guys. I absolutely did. But now it’s one of those things I’m going to miss. I’m going to take my time with this really, because I really do love this game. I love my teammates, I love my coaches. I love my owners — they are exceptional to this team, so we’ll see where it takes us.
"I wouldn’t say I’m at peace with it, but reality is hitting. I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace when the day comes when football ends, because it’s in my DNA."
Doctors have cleared Williams to return to the field, but that's done little to change his though process.
"They said I could come back and play, but they told me that last year, and this same thing happened," he said. "So what happened if I say, 'yeah, I’m going to play next year and I get the same hit? Will I be here talking to you guys again. Will I be here walking?'
"It’s those thoughts. I don’t sleep. I mean, my mind runs 1,000 miles an hour thinking about what I’m going to do."
All that time away has given Williams plenty of time to reflect on the play he was hurt on. While pursuing Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, Williams never saw Landry approaching. The Miami receiver leveled Williams with a hit to the head and neck area.
"You could say it was dirty," Williams said. "I say it was somewhat dirty, but at the same time, the guy is playing football. The man is doing his job. Could he have handled it a total different way of blocking me? Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that whole situation could have been different. I’m not going to go into ‘I have hard feelings with Jarvis.' It’s none of that. It has nothing to do with that. The man is playing the game."
Landry was fined $24,309 for the hit, which is exactly the type the NFL is trying to take out of the game.
"Before on ESPN, all these big hits that everybody loved to see. That’s stuff that I loved and enjoyed, but when you’re actually involved in that situation, you’re like, 'ok, wow, that was real scary,' " Williams said. "Like, we need to figure out a safety precaution about stuff like that. So nothing against Jarvis. I haven’t heard from him, and I don’t need to. He’s just making a play. I don’t have anything against him."
Williams, who has played six years, has made more than $10 million in his career.
"I made my money, and it’s great," he said. "It’s great to say that. But I’m at the point in my career now man, forget money. I’m trying to make history. That’s greater than money for me. It’s longevity. Everybody is going to know your name, everybody is going to know you were part of that team that broke that streak and brought this city what they’ve been waiting for.
"As far as weighing my options, man, it’s hard. It’s like a tipping scale. You’ve got a lot of pros and you’ve got a lot of cons. Sometimes you don’t want to listen to the cons. That’s one of the more important things that I have learned, that you have to listen to the cons more than the pros."
After he was hurt, Williams returned to his home in Texas. Being around the Bills was too hard.
"I had to get away. It was something that I needed to," he said. "If I stayed here, I would go crazy, and I wouldn’t be myself. I decided to exclude myself. Not just take my time away from the team, just let these guys focus. I know after the hit, all you guys were going to ask about these questions. I didn’t want any distractions. … There’s no need to worry about me. I’m not playing."
Needless to say, the Bills missed Williams both on and off the field. Buffalo ended up using eight different safeties this season, an amazing number considering Corey Graham took virtually every snap.
"It was stressful. Frustrating, just not being there for those guys," Williams said. "This business is a very tough one. Injuries do happen. Accidents like mine happen all the time. I’m not the first victim. ... At first I was super frustrated and super sad about how everything has turned out, but I’m still walking, I’m still smiling, I’m still talking to you guys right here, so I’m happy now."