Marcell Dareus was a troubled man in many ways, but his former teammates always kept a place in their hearts for him. Kyle Williams has kept in touch with him once a week through a phone call or text. They spoke a few days ago and joked about Williams scoring a touchdown against Miami.
"I told him that if we get around the goal line that he better watch out," Williams said after practice Thursday, "because I'm coming for him."
Eric Wood mentioned the kind soul that was mostly kept hidden, the man behind the turbulent past, how Dareus was generous with his time and money when it came to supporting his teammates' charitable causes. The rare times Dareus missed an event, he was sure to show up the next day with check in hand.
"Just a really good guy," Wood said. "There was an obvious disconnect between our new staff and him, and that led to his departure. But I honestly wish him nothing but the best in his career."
It was difficult to reconcile the compassionate person with the distant, nonchalant knucklehead who made $1 million per game before getting traded. Dareus never showed an ounce of leadership with the Bills. In recent years, he seemed more consumed with smoking pot than playing football.
Now he's playing for one of the NFL's elite defenses. The Jaguars allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL, were second in yards allowed and sacks and first in passing defense under former Bills coach Doug Marrone. They were already solid up front when they acquired Dareus for a fifth-round pick in the upcoming draft.
It makes for another good storyline into the Bills' first playoff game in 18 years. Buffalo viewed Dareus as a franchise defensive player when they selected him third overall in the 2011 draft and handed over a six-year contract worth $96 million four years later. And now they're playing against him.
"It's business," Dareus told reporters covering the Jaguars on Monday. "They had to make a move, but I can't act like it doesn't hurt."
The Bills missed him along the defensive line this season, but they're better off overall without him. He was the most overpaid defensive player in the league after signing the monster deal. But there's no escaping this truth: At his best, when healthy, when motivated, when engaged, Dareus is among the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
Buffalo can expect him to be a handful in the wild-card game Sunday. He's capable of blowing up a game plan with his combination of size, strength and athleticism. Nobody questioned his ability. Bet the ranch he'll be motivated against his former team in the biggest game in years for both franchises.
Wood figured he took more snaps against Dareus than anybody else in his career when all the practices were added up. He'll draw a tough assignment Sunday, but he'll get help from Richie Incognito and Vlad Ducasse. Incognito, who was picked for the Pro Bowl, is certainly no pushover and played against Dareus in the past.
"It's going to be exciting," Incognito said. "We've been competing on friendly terms. It's going to be fun going against our buddy. Marcell is a freak athlete. He's a good ballplayer. We've got some knowledge on him and know how he likes to play things, but there's nothing like being in the trenches. We expect the full Monty."
The shame in this, of course, is that Dareus could have been part of the Bills' solution but instead became a primary problem. His career in Buffalo was littered with childish behavior and suspensions. There was a sense long before he was traded this season that it wasn't going to end well in Buffalo.
Looking back, he had too much money, too much time on his hands and not enough discipline. He was a child. He played like someone who had lost interest in his job but couldn't walk away from the money. He was practically useless to the Bills the past two seasons before they dumped him. He has a sack and 21 tackles in nine games with the Jags.
"He had a few missteps off the field," Wood said. "His missteps in public weren't malicious. They were just missteps."
Just for fun, let's review.
In 2013, when Marrone was coaching the Bills, he benched Dareus for a quarter for repeated tardiness. His response was showing up late the next day. He was arrested for possession of synthetic marijuana. There was the moronic street-racing incident in which he crashed his car into a tree.
Dareus was a beast on the field and stayed out of trouble in 2014, when he had 10 sacks and 35 tackles and was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season. It was no surprise. It was a contract year. But he couldn't be trusted to handle the big contract, which including $60 million guaranteed.
Last year, he was banished for four games after testing positive for weed. Hours later, he showed his remorse while hanging out on Chippewa. He blew off rehabilitation and was so out of shape when he returned that he pulled a hamstring while jumping in the tunnel before his season debut.
Dareus quickly fell out of favor with the new regime, which publicly and properly questioned his commitment. He showed up for training camp out of shape. He was sidelined for a preseason contest against Baltimore before getting sent home for missing the team bus and showing up late to the stadium.
Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane wasted little time in trading him on the first team willing to take his contract. It was their last of several bold moves this season, a transaction that enabled the Bills to crawl from under the weight of his long-term deal that was destined to hold them back for years.
The Bills saved $54 million with the trade. They also delivered a clear message that lazy, insubordinate, overpaid players like him would be shown the door. The Bills someday could look back on the trade that sent him to Jacksonville for a fifth-round pick as the single-biggest shift in building a winning culture.
If Buffalo wins Sunday, the reminder could come sooner.