London Fletcher knew this day would come. But it wasn't until he walked on the field at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday that he came to the realization that this might have been his last game for the Buffalo Bills.
"It was very emotional," said Fletcher, who will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. "Prior to the game it was something I couldn't really describe because this time around is different for me, because my last game prior to my free agency in St. Louis we were playing in the Super Bowl.
"It's a little bit different type of game. Today, it's something I don't want to go through again to tell you the truth."
Cornerback Nate Clements feels the same way. But like Fletcher, free agency looms for Clements. While he'd like to stay in Buffalo, Clements knows there are no guarantees.
"I definitely understand this is a business," he said. "From my rookie year to now, I've seen a lot of people come through Buffalo and leave, so I know that I could be here one day and be playing for somebody else the next. All I can do is to just play the best I can whenever I'm out on that field."
Clements and Fletcher have been doing just that throughout their time in Buffalo. The Bills selected Clements in the first round of the 2001 draft out of Ohio State. Fletcher joined the team in 2002 as a highly regarded free agent from St. Louis.
The Bills had some very good defenses during their tenure, and both players emerged as elite performers at their positions.
Clements and Fletcher are sure to attract interest from other teams. But this season, which ended with a 19-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, is still too fresh in their minds to think about their future.
"I'm not anticipating anything," said Fletcher, who led the Bills in tackles and interceptions. "I just really want to get myself some rest. It has been a very emotional 2006 for me, just with the different highs and lows I've gone through with my mom passing, getting married, having a daughter on the way, being in the final year of my contract and being 31 years old, it's not like I'm 26 or 27. So it was just a lot of different things that weighed on me this year.
"But by the grace of God, I got through it. I'm just so thankful for that, but I do need a little emotional rest."
Neither Fletcher nor Clements will be easy to re-sign. Despite his age, Fletcher shows no signs of slowing down as he had one of the most productive seasons of his career. Not only did he lead the Bills in tackles for a fifth straight year, his interception on Sunday gave him a team-high four for the season. He also had two defensive touchdowns.
Clements is the longest shot of the Bills' nine unrestricted free agents to return next season. After a down year, he regained the form that allowed him to make the 2004 Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.
He showed that he can still be a shut-down corner when the Bills started assigning him to the opponents' best receiver during the second half of this season.
Clements said before the season that he wants to be one of the highest, if not the highest, paid cornerback in the NFL. His stance has not changed.
"Things happen, but it's really up to them," he said. "Right now, I feel that I have put in enough work to where I'm sitting in the driver's seat and I'm going to make the best decision for me and my family."
What makes the thought of leaving the Bills more difficult for Clements and Fletcher is their belief that this team's future is promising.
Whether they will be a part of that future remains to be seen.
"Who wouldn't want to be a part of a winning team?" Fletcher said. "I think you can ask every player and they want to win, they want to be a part of a winning team. But I really don't want to think about it right now. I just want to rest. Today . . . it was tough for me."