The names always change around Leodis McKelvin. And every time someone leaves this locker room, that player seems to have success.
“You notice it, I notice it," McKelvin said, "but since I’ve been here, have you seen all the guys who’ve left here? Where they end up? The playoffs. Look at it. That’s something I always pay attention to.”
This is McKelvin’s eighth, and potentially final, season as a Buffalo Bill. But then, he cuts this conversation into a different direction.
“To me, my personality and how I feel I don’t want to be that guy,” McKelvin said. “I don’t want to be that guy who leaves. I want to be that guy who stays here.”
Even when fans, you know, vandalize his lawn after a 2009 fumble against New England. Yeah, McKelvin smiles, even then.
With the Bills in dire need of money to re-sign the likes of Richie Incognito, Cordy Glenn, Nigel Bradham and explore outside help, general manager Doug Whaley might release McKelvin this spring. He has a 2016 cap hit of $4.9 million. With Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby entrenched as at cornerback, the Bills shifted McKelvin to safety when he returned from the physically unable to perform list Nov. 8. Now, he’s back at corner.
He understands he may need to take a pay cut. He understands he may need make a full transition to safety.
But McKelvin wants to stay in Buffalo.
“It’s about opportunity and my decision on what I want to do — do I want to accept that role or do I not want to accept that role?
“For me personally, my goal is to stay here and get this team to the playoffs. No matter how many years it takes, that’s my goal."
And what if the Bills ask him to take a pay cut? McKelvin grins again and assures, “I have a lot of money in the bank.”
McKelvin spent all of training camp watching training camp from a golf cart, then a scooter, unable to put any weight on his surgically repaired ankle. Darby proved he's starter material, so Rex Ryan shifted McKelvin to safety despite his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame. The head coach even half-joked this is probably the smallest safety he’s ever had.
Since then, at safety and corner, this has been a roller-coaster season for McKelvin. He's been burnt on plays that essentially ended Buffalo's season. In the 23-20 loss to Philadelphia, tight end Zach Ertz stiff-armed McKelvin to the turf and rumbled ahead for 41 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. One week later, at Washington, McKelvin maintained outside leverage as Jordan Reed broke inside for an 18-yard score — possibly not his fault — but then he couldn’t find the ball on a fade to Pierre Garcon for six.
Before all of this — in the pivotal 30-22 loss at Kansas City — Travis Kelce ran a short slant on McKelvin, caught it and left him in the dust for 38 yards.
Still, Ryan is quick to dismiss the notion that McKelvin has struggled at all.
“Here’s a guy that missed all of training camp and then half the season,” Ryan said last week, “and then he comes back. I’ve kind of been amazed by the way he has played, considering he missed all that time.”
Sure enough, McKelvin had his best game against a depleted Dallas offense, shadowing receivers deep and breaking on a ball that was intercepted.
He'll be one 2016 safety option. McKelvin asserts he’s smart enough to roam deep, knows he’d need to add about five pounds of muscle and is also quick to note he won't need off-season surgery for the first time in "four or five years."
This move is common for 30-year-old cornerbacks. Canton-bound Charles Woodson, an extreme example, played three more seasons at safety after the Green Bay Packers gave up on him. At age 37, 38 and 39, he’s had 210 tackles, four forced fumbles, 20 pass defensed and 10 interceptions. Intelligence must replace raw athleticism.
Either way, the Bills will need to do something at safety where Aaron Williams' career is in jeopardy off a scary neck injury.
“We have a lot of things going on with our secondary,” McKelvin said. “All of us might not be here next year. You never know. With Aaron and his decision he may make. … I can make that move. I feel young enough. So I can do it, I can do it. It’s all about the want-to."
While admitting there’s always a “Will I be here next year?” unknown in the back of his head, McKelvin enjoys playing in Ryan’s defense, too.
Rare in a month Ryan's scheme has been under siege in this locker room.
“When everybody buys in, that’s when things happen," he said. "When people aren’t sure with what they want to do, that’s when people are late or they mess up because they’re thinking too much. That’s how it’s been going this year — people don’t want to buy in. People don’t gel together. Half the people buy in, half the people go through the motions with it. You have to go out there and everybody has to be one.
“No matter what the play call is, no matter what it is, we’ve been in” Cover 0 “all year long. But that’s just something we have to deal with. Deal with it. Get over with it. Get through the down and get to the next."
This season isn't over yet. On Sunday, McKelvin faces an old friend: Ryan Fitzpatrick. McKelvin fully expects his old teammate to give defensive backs a chance at interceptions. He saw this quarterback operate up close for four seasons here.
Hope, excitement, glimpses that better days were ahead usually ended with gut-punch turnovers.
Said McKelvin, “As a defender, you have to always remember Fitz is still Fitz. He’s going to always give you opportunities to make plays. … It doesn’t matter what the weather is — he’s going to get the ball out. You’ve got to make sure you’re in the right coverage and make him pay for it.”
So, no, this isn’t a meaningless game to McKelvin. It's a chance to prove he belongs.
And no way does he want to see another ex-Bill in the playoffs.
“I’m not going to be the guy you beat to go to the playoffs,” McKelvin said. “Especially when we play each other and you understand as a Buffalo Bill how hard it is to get to the playoffs. I’m definitely not going to let him come in and get a victory.”