Marcell Dareus has reached closure in the form of a one-game suspension to start the 2015 NFL season.
"It's been hanging over my head for a while now and just happy we can move forward and prepare for the season," the Buffalo Bills' defensive tackle said Wednesday of the possibility of the NFL doling out justice for a pair of arrests last season. "Just really feeling a lot better now."
Dareus, a 6-foot-3, 331-pounder, finished with 49 tackles and a single-season career high 10 sacks in 2014. He knew a suspension was possible after being arrested twice within a month about a year ago -- in his native Alabama on felony drug charges and in Hamburg after a street-racing incident on McKinley Parkway.
A one-game suspension means Dareus will miss the Bills' home opener against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 13, but given the nature of his transgressions, a longer suspension would not have been a surprise. Darius said he was happy the NFL was lenient on him.
"I'll deal with that," he said of a one-game suspension. "I talked with my team and we're moving forward. We're just putting it all behind us."
Dareus kept the nature of that conversation with his teammates private, choosing to stick by a statement he released last week when the suspension was announced. In that, he apologized to his family, teammates, organization and fans.
He stuck by that sentiment Wednesday and sounded ready to move on from the talk about his off-field issues.
While those are hopefully behind him, there is, however, another issue hanging over Dareus' head. He's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2015 season, and admitted that "weighs on me heavily."
"I've got to go out here and really perform and do what I have to do," he said. "I mean, however they want to play it is how they play it. I'm excited for the upcoming year. I'm excited to move forward, I'm excited to be with my new teammates."
Dareus, 25, is coming off a Pro Bowl 2014 season in which he established himself as one of the NFL's best defensive tackles. Recent mega-contracts signed by Ndamukong Suh with the Miami Dolphins and Gerald McCoy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have set the market for premier players at the position at more than $15 million per season.
"Just turn on the tape. It speaks for itself," Dareus said when asked if he had taken notice of those deals. "Them are great guys. They play hard. I play hard. I'm pretty sure there's hundreds of other guys that play hard, as well. ... What they got, that's not mine. I can't count what I don't have. I'm just going to really sit back, play my game, have fun and whatever the outcome is, is the outcome."
Dareus' agent, Todd France, has a relationship with Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula from when he headed the sports agency, 5 Star Athlete Management, the couple owned. The Pegulas were forced to divest their interest in the agency when they bought the Bills.
Dareus was asked whether that relationship could make a deal with the Bills more likely.
"Terry's a really great guy. Really great personality," Dareus said of his relationship with his boss. "I mean, our relationship is our relationship. Business is business, it's completely different. I'm pretty sure he looks at it the same way. At the same time, I'm going to try my best. Whatever the outcome is, I'm pretty sure they're going to make the best decision for the organization."
Bills General Manager Doug Whaley has indicated reaching a contract extension with Dareus is the team's current top priority. Dareus, however,
"We'll just wait and see what the Bills do," he said.
Bills coach Rex Ryan also commented Wednesday on Dareus' suspension for the first time since it was announced.
"Hopefully, this is something that Marcell and our team can learn from," Ryan said. "There's consequences to your actions and things like that, and hopefully this is a one-time deal and we don't have to mess with it again and he's learned from it.
"Clearly, he'll be missed as a player, but we have a lot of good football players, and somebody will step up."
With Dareus out in Week One, Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, Alex Carrington and Jairus Wynn will all compete to play an expanded role.
"I feel really good about those guys," Ryan said. "You generally don't go through a whole season without somebody missing time, so this will give opportunities for somebody else. Will we miss Marcell Dareus? Yeah, of course."
Ryan said what sets Dareus apart from some of the other premier defensive tackles in the league is "he's 20 pounds heavier than those guys."
"This is a giant of a man who has unusual athleticism and is as good as there is in the league, probably, or close to it," Ryan said.