Vontae Davis peeled off his jersey and pads, packed his belongings and walked out of the stadium at halftime, leaving his teammates and any shred of integrity behind.
The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback retired from football in the middle of a game, calling it a career midway through the Buffalo Bills’ 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in the home opener on Sunday at New Era Field. He bailed on the franchise after just two quarters of playing time, abandoning an already short-handed secondary as it was being shredded by Philip Rivers. The future Hall of Fame quarterback had completed 15 of 16 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bills trailed 28-6 at the time.
“He pulled himself out of the game,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said afterward, acknowledging Davis hadn’t been injured. “He communicated to us that he was done.”
Once the shock wears off – and that might take a minute, particularly inside the locker room – here’s the truth of this unprecedented situation:
The Bills are better off without him.
Davis signed a one-year, $5 million contract with Buffalo this offseason after an ugly divorce with the Indianapolis Colts that turned on his decision to undergo season-ending groin surgery.
The 30-year-old was a healthy scratch for the Bills’ season-opening blowout loss in Baltimore, where Taron Johnson was lost to a shoulder injury. Davis started at outside cornerback against the Chargers, with the team dressing just four corners.
Buffalo was down to three healthy corners in the second quarter once Phillip Gaines, who started in the slot, was carted off with an elbow injury.
And yet Davis simply ghosted.
He felt no sense of duty to his teammates, who were incredulous after the game.
“I don't have nothing to say about Vontae. I'm going to give him a little bit more respect than he showed us today as far as quitting on us in the middle of the game,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, a 12-year veteran who couldn’t recall a similar incident. “Never have seen it ever. Pop Warner, high school, college, pros. Never heard of it, never seen it. It's just completely disrespectful to his teammates.”
“I think I did lose a little respect … just as a man,” safety Rafael Bush said. “In this game, we're always taught to fight until the end. And for you to give up on your teammates like that in the middle of a game, I've just never seen anything like that.”
“I’ve never been around that. Never heard anything like that,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. “I think the only thing to say is he’s where he needs to be right now. Point blank and simple.”
Wherever that was, it wasn’t with the team.
Wire hangers dangled in Davis’ otherwise empty locker.
Davis released a lengthy statement confirming his sudden retirement a few hours after the game, complete with his signature and a photo of himself in a Colts uniform, holding a football in the end zone. That’s just as well, since he’s not welcome back in Buffalo and it’s impossible to imagine another team would sign him.
He delivered the message through the NFL’s official Twitter feed.
“This isn’t how I pictured retiring from the NFL,” the statement read. “But in my 10th NFL season, I have been doing what my body has been programmed to do: Get ready to play on game day. I’ve endured multiple surgeries and played through many different injuries throughout my career and, over the last few weeks, this was the latest physical challenge.
“But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.
“I meant no disrespect to my teammates and coaches. But I hold myself to a standard. Mentally, I always expect myself to play at a high level. But physically, I know today that isn’t possible, and I had an honest moment with myself. While I was on the field, I just didn’t feel right, and I told the coaches, ‘I’m not feeling like myself.’
“I also wondered: Do I want to keep sacrificing?
“And truthfully, I do not because the season is long, and it’s more important for me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late.
“This was an overwhelming decision, but I’m at peace with myself and my family. I choose to be grateful to God for allowing me to play the game that I have loved as a boy until I turned 30 years old. I choose to be grateful to God for being a part of the NFL and making lifelong friends over the last decade. There were roadblocks and pitfalls along the way, but I am grateful to God for all of it because he doesn’t promise any of us an easy journey.
“Lastly, I am grateful to God for what he has in store for me ahead, in this next chapter of my life.”
You cannot begrudge a man for putting his health, his family and his faith first. No one in the league would say otherwise.
But this is not about that.
Had Davis chosen to walk away after Sunday’s game, or on Monday morning, hey, no problem.
His heart’s not in it? He’s not physically up to the task? Fine.
There’s little loyalty in the NFL, particularly when it comes to the way teams treat players, who can be cut at a moment’s notice.
But you make certain commitments in life, and a respectable, responsible person lives up to those commitments.
Davis made a commitment to his teammates when he donned a Bills uniform on Sunday, and then left them hanging when they needed him most.
Bush was forced to cover the slot for the remainder of the game. Lafayette Pitts, an undrafted free agent, played on the outside, across from Tre’Davious White.
And with McDermott taking over play-calling in the second half, instead of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a decision that may or may not be permanent, this tattered group managed to hold the Chargers to a field goal the rest of the way.
So good riddance, Vontae Davis.
What’s a little extra dead cap space?
This season, delivered dead on arrival, is all about building experience and character.
Bills fans saw plenty of the latter in their rookie franchise quarterback, Josh Allen, as he rallied his defensive teammates on the sideline in the third quarter after leading the team’s first touchdown drive of the season.
The Bills might be the worst team in the NFL, but it’s clear they’re not quitters, and anyone who’s less than 100 percent committed to winning should be welcome to follow Davis out the door.