It looked, sounded and felt like a farewell for London Fletcher on Monday.
The Buffalo Bills' linebacker, who is set to become a free agent in March, for the first time expressed his deep frustration that the Bills did not extend his contract this season.
"I wasn't happy about having to play this year without having a contract extension," Fletcher said. "I was not happy at all. . . . I was not at all happy about having to be forced to play out my contract when my performance four years prior to that, three years prior to that, two years prior to that, should have merited an extension well before this."
The comments by the team's defensive leader were the most significant made on the day the Bills players cleaned out their lockers.
There was a sense of accomplishment in the locker room a day after the season-ending loss at Baltimore. The players know they made progress in finishing 7-9. They expect new talent will be added in the offseason. The Bills will have the 12th overall choice in the NFL draft.
They also know Monday was the last time some of them will clean out their lockers in Orchard Park.
Fletcher clearly thinks that if the Bills were determined to keep him they would have done it before now -- either last summer or during the season.
"You've extended other guys, why not extend me?" Fletcher said.
The Bills got every bit of value out of the five-year, $17 million contract they gave Fletcher in 2002. He never has missed a game in his nine NFL seasons. He leads the NFL in tackles over the past seven years, according to NFL game day statistics. He has been a team leader on the field and in the locker room since the day he arrived in Buffalo.
He also will be 32 when next season rolls around. He surely will be signing his last major contract when he hits the free-agent market in March. He wants what he believes is fair market value and he wants to win.
"I've always put the team first, and I've always sacrificed myself and things that I've wanted from an individual standpoint and goal-wise to benefit the good of the team," Fletcher said. "But I told [the Bills' management] in this situation, this is the one time I have to be selfish. This is about me, and I have to be selfish with this decision and do what's best for myself and my family. . . . I have to make sure I secure the best future for us beyond the NFL. This is something I have to be selfish about."
Fletcher got choked up when talking about the emotional drain he experienced in 2006. His mother died of heart failure in June, just a week before his wedding.
"I think I need more mental rest than physical rest," Fletcher said. "I was telling the guys yesterday, a lot has happened for me this year, the biggest thing the death of my mother.
"My mom was really my whole reason for being where I am today. She was my inspiration and as a kid growing up I always wanted to put a smile on her face. To not have her to experience the different situation I've experienced this year, my marriage, the upcoming birth of my first child, Christmas . . . just not having her here to enjoy the season and the different things I've had happen in my life, it's been hard. I just really need more mental and emotional rest than physical rest.
"I feel I need some time to get away, to really evaluate the situation here in Buffalo."
Bills coach Dick Jauron was not interested in talking specifics about any personnel moves that await the team over the next five months.
"We know there will be new faces, and we don't know how many," Jauron said. "But we know we've laid a strong foundation, and this team [the 2006 group] will always be part of it. Hopefully, it's going to go where we want it to go, and they can take great pride in that. But only time will tell."
The Bills were one of three NFL teams to finish 7-9, joining Atlanta and San Francisco. Ties for draft order are broken by strength of schedule, with the team having the weaker schedule drafting sooner. The Bills finished with the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL. The Bills' foes had a winning percentage of .574.
The 12th spot in the draft is a lot better for the Bills than it might have been. It was possible that seven more teams could have finished 7-9. In that case, the Bills would have had the 19th pick in the first round.