The COVID pandemic left veteran guard Brian Winters without the opportunity to get up close and personal with any of his potential suitors after he was released by the Jets on Aug. 2nd. Fortunately, for the Buffalo Bills, their program and way of doing business under head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane sold itself.
"When I got let go obviously it's tough to feel out a team when you can't even get in the building, so it was a new time, but I know what type of program (Buffalo) is," said Winters, who signed a one-year contract with the Bills. "I know it's a hard-nosed blue-collar area and that's type of football I play. I'm excited for that and I just felt like it was a fit for me so I'm excited to be here now."
Winters mentioned how Bills offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is a respected coach around the NFL and his conversations with Johnson helped him make his decision. It didn't hurt that the two men are both Ohio natives and played their college ball in the Mid-American Conference, Winters at Kent State and Johnson at Miami University.
Having family in the Buffalo suburbs may have influenced Winters' decision a bit too.
"My aunt and my uncle live in East Aurora," he said. "My mom and my dad actually lived right here in Orchard Park for eight years or so. They lived right down the road from the facility and the stadium. They used to walk the games. So, I've got some history here yeah. It's a fit and always has been. It's cool."
The veteran guard's style of play had to be very attractive to the Bills knowing his feisty on-field demeanor is something they'll be looking to replace with Jon Feliciano out of the lineup indefinitely following surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
With about five weeks before the start of the regular season, landing a veteran the caliber of Winters was a significant addition under the circumstances.
"We all knew that being able to get a veteran throughout the season or before the season, even in free agency was going to be (critical) this year just because of the COVID situation, meeting times and not really getting into the building with guys until a few weeks ago," said center Mitch Morse. "Brian's body of work is very impressive. He's put a lot of good games together and has started a lot of games and I think he's hungry to be the best teammate he can be and be a good football player.
"Brian much like Jon, both are very physical players, both are very smart. And they seem to both really uplift the group they're with not just physically but emotionally. Very happy to be with a guy like that and we'll see how it goes but having a guy like Brian come in is fantastic."
Winters, 29, who has played his entire six-year career for the Jets, played his first two seasons at left guard, before manning right guard the last four seasons. He started nine games for New York last season, seven with a torn shoulder capsule that even with a harness led to more than one dislocation while playing. It led to offseason surgery.
In 2017, Winters played in 12 games with torn abdominal muscles before shutting it down for the final three games that season. He described playing with that injury as "horrendous."
But he's healthy now and ready to get up to speed with Buffalo as quickly as possible.
"I've been healthy for the last four or five months, honestly," he said. "I've been going at it, because I wanted to get back to my normal self. It always sucks, having an injury and playing through it for the season. I did the best I could. But learning a new playbook is always going to be a challenge for anybody doesn't matter if you're new guy or an old guy. But I'm going to put in extra time and do whatever I can help the team."
Winters is already using the common player practice of translation from his previous scheme to the language for the concepts they utilize in Buffalo. He also plans to lean on Morse, who he could be lining up with sooner rather than later.
"He's a veteran guy, he's been in the system," said Winters of Morse. "So, I was already talking to him. I was like, 'I'm going to be asking you questions as I go through this so don't think I'm a weirdo or anything.' But he's a good dude I'm excited to work with him."
Despite Winters' late arrival, it's anticipated that he'll be competing directly with the likes of offseason free agent signee Daryl Williams and others for the vacant right guard position.
"We're very fortunate to have a guy like Brian, who has played a lot of football, come in and step up and compete with guys who are already here who are stepping in right now for Jon," Morse said.
Seventy-nine career starts in 89 career games carries weight in the NFL, especially when time is of the essence. Now it's on Winters to prove he deserves the spot while Feliciano works his way back to full health.
And though the veteran lineman is known as a self-motivated player, you can bet there will be some added incentive to win the starting right guard spot knowing his now former team is the first on Buffalo's schedule in the season opener.
"My whole career this was probably one of the toughest places to play," said Winters of Buffalo. "Obviously being a rival that it is and being in the conference and the division it's always a place that I hated playing. The fans are great. I'm kind of happy they're on my side now. And yeah, I'm eager, I am. I'm excited to be able to strap up against my old team and I'm a Buffalo Bill now."