The time period from when the Bills first made their interest in Charles Clay known to when the Dolphins finally decided not to match Buffalo's offer sheet for the transition player took nine agonizing days. The Bills' initial presentation to Clay however, had the tight end sold before he even landed in Buffalo for his free agent visit.
Buffalo dispatched head coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and tight ends coach Tony Sparano Jr. to Boca Raton, Florida to pick up Clay for a free agent visit on the first day the market opened, Tuesday, March 10th. Joining the three members of the coaching staff once they landed, was Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula. They drove from their south Florida home to accompany them to meet Clay.
The presence of ownership along with the team's head coach and the two assistants who would be working most closely with Clay made it clear to the Miami transition player just how big a priority he was to the Bills organization.
"It was huge. It goes to show how much they actually value me," said Clay.
"I definitely think you could tell he was very impressed with the commitment, especially when the owners get involved," Roman told Buffalobills.com. "I think that speaks volumes in such a positive way."
The Pegulas then joined Ryan, Roman and Sparano Jr. with Clay on the flight via private jet back to Buffalo. Those two-plus hours on the plane gave the team's brass uninterrupted time with the tight end. By the sound of it Clay was already sold on the Bills.
"I felt I was one of their guys from the very second I stepped on the plane and just getting the chance to meet and talk with the Pegulas, they're such down to earth people," said Clay. "Just getting the chance to meet with them and to fly up with Rex (Ryan) and Greg Roman and Tony Sparano Jr. and just having the chance to talk with them, I was very impressed. They had me excited on the plane before I even got to Buffalo. I was about ready to sign before I even got there, so I was very excited."
"I think it's like anything else. Once the initial realization passed that he was our number one priority, you're just a bunch of people sitting and talking and getting to know each other," said Roman. "That's when I think we were able to make the real impression of our legitimate and unbridled enthusiasm for what we've got going here in Buffalo."
Clay admitted that what had him quickly convinced that the next chapter of his career should be in Buffalo was the top to bottom commitment of the organization to build a perennial winner.
"When you look at the organization as a whole with the new owners, new coaching staff, a lot of the moves they made this offseason…I was kind of intrigued by it," said Clay. "Before I even took my visit, I could get the sense that they were a team that was on the rise. They were a team that was going to win right away and it was definitely something I was excited to just have the opportunity to be a part of.
"Just looking at it in that way, it was always a team that I always hated coming up and playing against; one because you have that fan base who love their team so much and it was always hard to hear and things like that and just to have that opportunity to be a part of that excitement…I'm happy to be a part of this organization."
New head coach Rex Ryan along with Roman and Sparano Jr. got down the 'X's and 'O's after the Pegulas laid out their vision for the franchise and the team. Clay had done his homework on Buffalo's new sideline boss and liked what he heard from around the league. Then sitting down with him and offensive coordinator Greg Roman only had Clay committed all the more.
"Just knowing I've played against a Rex Ryan defense for the past four years, I know how tough it is to play against his defense," Clay said. "I know the kind of mentality that he brings to a team. Granted, Buffalo is a tough team to play against in the first place, but I talked to a lot players who played under Rex and they all spoke very highly of him. So just having that opportunity and when they showed that they valued me just as much as I value a guy like Rex Ryan or Greg Roman…once they showed that, I was pretty much sold on it."
"That uninterrupted time on the plane was very valuable," Roman said. "I think our message was delivered and we got to know him quite well. It was a great plan and the plan was well executed. At the same time our interest in him was entirely legitimate and was easy to sell with what we've got going here and who we've got on this roster. It was just a very good plan."
In the days leading up to free agency Clay felt he would garner some interest on the market despite being tagged by Miami as a transition player, and he was right. Still, the top to bottom organizational commitment shown to him by the Bills was at a level he was not anticipating.
"They showed interest from early on through the whole free agency process. They stuck with it and stuck with it, so I was impressed by the whole situation," said Clay. "Everything went so well from meeting coaches to meeting people around the facility. I was so excited to have that opportunity that I wanted to sign right away. Then signing that offer sheet and then having to wait was tough, but at the end of the day it all worked out just how I wanted it and I couldn't be happier."