ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills center Eric Wood’s plans to announce his retirement on Monday were sidetracked due to issues arising over what he is owed over the final two years of his contract, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
Instead of announcing his retirement in front of a large gathering of family, friends and teammates, the nine-year veteran instead spent less than two minutes reading from a prepared statement in which Wood stressed he is still on the team’s roster.
“Thanks to everyone who supported me throughout my career. And because of that, I am here today,” Wood said. “I’m sure there are a lot of unanswered questions. I hope to address those at a later date. Thanks, and go Bills.”
With that, Wood stepped down from the stage, picked up and kissed his daughter, Grace, and walked away behind a curtain.
Wood will never play again after tests revealed he has two discs he said are “dangerously close to my spinal cord.”
According to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, teams can ask for a portion of bonus money to be returned if a player retires before his contract expires. There is, however, a gray area if a player retires as a result of a career-ending injury.
The person said the question over bonus money was the reason Wood held off on announcing his retirement as had been initially planned shortly after the player learned of his diagnosis following Buffalo’s 10-3 loss to Jacksonville in the AFC wild card playoff on Jan. 7.
The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because neither Wood nor the team commented on the matter that delayed the start of the news conference by nearly an hour.
Wood has been informed by doctors that the injury is so severe he would no longer be cleared to play — even with surgery or further treatment.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane declined to get into specifics when speaking with reporters. He said the lengthy delay in starting the news conference was the result of Wood’s late arrival and also due to a phone call the player had with his agent.
Beane acknowledged a complication by saying the team has no room under the current salary cap to release Wood until the NFL’s 2018 business year opens in mid-March.
“It’s tough. There’s all sorts of things when you’re doing roster management and all that,” he said. “He’ll be on our roster for a while until we figure things out.”
Wood was entering the final year of his contract before signing a two-year extension in August. He has shied away from using the word retirement since news of his neck injury first surfaced Friday.
In a separate development, the Bills announced defensive line coach Mike Waufle has retired after completing his 20th NFL season and first in Buffalo.
The Bills filled Waufle’s spot by promoting defensive line assistant Bill Teerlinck. They also hired Aaron Whitecotton to take over as Teerlinck’s assistant.
Rather than focus on Wood’s uncertain status, Beane was more interested in discussing the impact the 31-year-old had as a team leader and helping the Bills reach the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
“This is Eric’s day. It’s about him and a heck of a career he had,” Beane said. “It’s bittersweet, but we’re just trying to celebrate his career.”
The news conference was held in the Bills’ practice facility rather than the team’s smaller media room to handle a crowd of about 100 people — not including members of the media — attending the event. Guests included Wood’s former teammates such as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and current Bills, including defensive tackle Kyle Williams and running back LeSean McCoy.
Also on hand were members of his charitable foundation, The Eric Wood Fund, as well family members of people his foundation has supported.
Wood opened the news conference by apologizing for the delay. He said was “floored” when informed of the severity of his neck injury.
Wood said he sustained “a stinger” for the first time in his career during a 20-16 loss at Cincinnati on Oct. 8, and then a second one the following game. He said tests showed no significant damage.
Wood is from Cincinnati and spent four seasons playing at Louisville before being selected by the Bills with their second of two first-round picks in the 2009 draft. Wood earned a starting job entering his rookie season and appeared in 121 career games, including one in the playoff.
Wood was also popular in the community for his charitable work, and was the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2015 and `16.
Bills fans rallied to Wood’s support by donating more than $30,000 to Wood’s foundation, with the money going toward Buffalo’s Oishei Children’s Hospital.
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