On Friday, the Buffalo Bills announced that Center Eric Wood would be forced to retire due to injury. The announcement adds to the Bills off-season to-do list, and prematurely ends the career of a great NFL player.
Each NFL team performs post-season physicals on all their players. For the Bills and Eric Wood, this physical was going to be no different. After 9 years in the NFL, all with Buffalo, the physical would be a final step before the off-season.
Unfortunately the doctors revealed that through time, Wood’s neck had issues. Those issues led to the announcement yesterday that Wood’s NFL career is now over.
Wood was selected in the 1st round of the 2009 draft by the Buffalo Bills. He’s been a pro-bowler, multi-year Captain, and spent his entire NFL career with the Bills.
He has been the second longest tenured Bills player, behind only Kyle Williams. What Williams is to the defensive side, Wood is a quieter, but still important leader and glue for the offensive side.
During Wood’s first year in the league the Bills attempted using him at Guard. However, once he got an opportunity to replace Geoff Hangartner at Center, the spot was Wood’s until this weekend. Over the past 9 seasons the Bills have had many holes and areas of the team to fill or improve. Yet, Center hasn’t been one of them. Losing a piece of the team’s foundation will be difficult to overcome.
On field, there may already be a replacement on the roster in backup lineman Ryan Groy. In 2016, Groy played the final 7 games of the season at Center when Wood left with injury. He allowed 0 sacks during those games. He did well enough that the Bills matched his free agent offer from the Rams, and kept him in Buffalo. The 27 year old Groy, will have the first opportunity to replace Wood.
While we often talk about Kyle Williams as the heart and soul of the Bills. Eric Wood may be the heart and soul of the Bills community work. Wood was one of the most active members in the community. Wood is a two-time Bills nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, in 2015 & 2016. The Eric Wood Fund provides encouragement and experiences to seriously ill and physically challenged children. The fund is just one of many community actions Wood routinely participates in.
Dedication to service, and on-field production made Wood a multi-year captain. He has been instrumental in the locker room with building the culture’s for multiple head coaches, and being a supportive voice for players. None more so than Richie Incognito. After a year away from football, Incognito came to the Bills, partially due to his relationship with Wood who would serve as a friend and support for Incognito as he transitioned from bully to Pro-Bowler in Buffalo.
The early retirement of Wood will be something that McDermott and company will have to overcome this off-season. Facts are that until the Bills re-sign Kyle Williams, 3 of their 5 team captains could be off the team in 2018. Culture is a tough thing to change, and it doesn’t happen after just one season. Wood would have been an example of that culture for multiple years. Unfortunately, events happen and now the younger stars will have only had 1 full season to learn what it takes to be a 9 year NFL starter.
More to come on this story as news unfolds. There is a retirement press conference at 1pm EDT on Monday. Eric Wood’s career was cut short, but it was a great run that ended with an exclamation point. His durability and work ethic will be tough to duplicate on the field, but that’s where hopefully he stays around the team in some capacity to continue teaching.
Wood’s off-field contributions will linger in the Buffalo and Louisville communities for many years to come, as well as continue through his charitable foundations and efforts. We are excited to see what the next chapter holds for Eric Wood, but for now, hopefully he enjoys some time off.
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