Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With a new regime and practices at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and Sept. 12th
It's been a topic of discussion since Aaron Schobel first mentioned it in Week 16 of the 2009 season. Coming off a three-sack game in a lopsided loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Schobel's nine-year career without a playoff berth came into focus for him.
"You can pick out a lot of years, it's been a struggle," said Schobel last December. "Nine years I've been here and it's been that way. It's frustrating."
Schobel admitted he was tired of the losing he had experienced since the Bills made him a second-round pick in 2001 and that winning may have revived him a bit more, but there was far more to the decision he planned to mull over in his head this offseason.
"I'm going to try to make the best decision I can make for myself, for my family and for the Bills," he said.
The pass rusher's decision involves a lot more than his own wishes. It involves his three young children, who will all be of school age this fall. Splitting their curriculum with half the school year in Buffalo and half the school year in his native Texas has not been productive, primarily because the two curriculums do not coincide with one another.
With a desire to keep his wife and children based in Texas year round, Schobel sold his Western New York home earlier this offseason. Whether Schobel chooses to remain with his family full time this fall in Texas is the question.
A question even some of his closest teammates have had trouble answering.
"He never told me one way or the other when Kyle Williams and I went down there early in the offseason to spend some time with him," said Chris Kelsay. "I never really got a feeling one way or another. But knowing him as a person and being close friends with him and playing my entire career with him I know he's a family man, he places a lot of his choices on what's best for his family, but he still has that football mentality and he showed that last year with double digit sacks in his ninth year. That was pretty impressive."
Based on some of his most recent comments in June it appears likely that after nine NFL seasons, Schobel is leaning toward calling it a career.
"At this point I doubt I'm coming back," Schobel told Buffalobills.com last month. " I'm not ready to say I'm retiring yet, but if Buffalo needs to move on without me they sure can. I would understand. Don't wait on me."
At issue for Schobel, if he does return, would be time away from his young family. Were he to come back and play in 2010 for Buffalo, it would have to come with the opportunity to spend part of his work weeks during the season back home in Columbus, Texas instead of at One Bills Drive.
With Tuesday usually the only off day for players during the regular season, that doesn't seem practical or possible given the level of commitment Bills head coach Chan Gailey is looking for from his players, especially in year one of his tenure. What's interesting is Schobel seems to understand Gailey's position.
"I think this coaching staff is okay with moving on without me, and that's fine," Schobel said. "I understand he has to come in and do what he has to do, but at this point in my career that's what has to happen for me to play."
Schobel has maintained all along he would like to play his entire career in Buffalo, so playing for another team, even one closer to his Texas home does not appear to be all that appealing. Furthermore, it's unlikely that another NFL club would be interested in adding a new player to their locker room that wants to spend part of the work week at home and not put in the same amount of time as the rest of the roster.
"If September rolls around and Buffalo wants me then maybe I'll play," said Schobel. "But I doubt it."
Schobel has expressed a desire to be released by the Bills, but the club is not expected to entertain that as an option. The team has maintained a consistent stance on the weighty decision Schobel has to make.
"There's been dialogue with Aaron," said Bills GM Buddy Nix this past spring. "I've talked to his agent, Chan has talked to him. The ball is in his court. If he wants to play we certainly want him back. If he wants to retire we wish him the best."
When Schobel first raised thoughts of retirement he expected it would take him two months to reach a final decision. That timeframe has now stretched to seven months. The Bills have the option of fining Schobel come training camp, as he is a player under contract making him obligated to report to the team.
Whether that would prompt a decision from Schobel, or a final resolution drags into the tail end of the preseason remains to be seen. What is clear is calling it a career as the second most successful sack artist in team history is a step Schobel is seemingly ready to take if necessary.
"If I had to retire I'd have no regrets."