Knee-jerk Crowell decision could haunt Bills

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Almost forgotten amid the buzz surrounding the Buffalo Bills is whatever became of Angelo Crowell.

In a bizarre sequence of events, the veteran linebacker elected to have knee surgery three days before the season opener. The Bills, incensed at the timing and fuming over left tackle Jason Peters' holdout, placed Crowell on injured reserve.

Just like that, the Bills scratched last year's leading tackler for the season. They did so even though Crowell's recovery would have lasted five weeks at the longest. He could have played 11 games and the postseason.

The Bills' decision screamed of vindictiveness from emotions already inflamed by Peters' absence. Crowell was on the final year of his contract. Letting him rot will curtail his value on the free-agent market.

But who did the Bills really punish, the player or themselves?

"I'm advising Angelo to take the high road and not respond to some inaccurate comments coming out about him," Crowell's agent, Todd France, told me Friday night.

The matter essentially was brushed aside by other news. The next day, Peters agreed to report to the Bills, ending a prolonged saga that hovered over the team for weeks. Then the Bills beat the Seattle Seahawks on the same afternoon the AFC East broke wide open with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's buckled knee.

Crowell became an afterthought. The Bills moved his locker stall from a place of prominence to a corner location befitting practice squad players, and everybody went about their business in Orchard Park.

"No one is going to quit on me," Bills owner Ralph Wilson told Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan after the Seahawks victory.

Crowell won't need the locker. He went home the day the Bills ended his season. He hasn't been back since and doesn't intend to return.

Noted sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews this week performed the operation on Crowell's left knee, which had been bothering Crowell since last season. Crowell is rehabbing in Pensacola, Fla.

France said the procedure was more intensive than the one Crowell would have undergone to get him back on the field sooner. But when the Bills ended Crowell's season, he decided he might as well get the works.

While Andrews isn't the type of doctor who would cut on an athlete for no reason, the Bills claimed Crowell didn't need the surgery. The Bills felt blindsided by his decision even though he struggled through training camp and played only one preseason game.

Adding to the odd situation, though, was the fact Crowell practiced the day before he revealed his intention to have surgery and was not listed on the injury report.

"No player wants to be out any amount of time or have surgery in any season, much less his free-agency year," France said. "At this point, he's dealing with it as best he can. He's trying to stay positive and get 100 percent healthy for next season."

The Bills could have waited to see how Crowell's knee responded to the surgery. They could have kept him on the roster while he recovered, which is what they did last year with backup defensive end Ryan Denney, who broke his foot in preseason and missed the first seven games.

Instead, they banished him to the corner.

Tackles aren't an official NFL stat, which is why there's a discrepancy between the Bills' number for Crowell (140) and NFL.com's (126). Either way, he led the team last year. He also recorded two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

Keith Ellison is a decent replacement and won't hurt the Bills' defense by being on the field, but for a team that hasn't made the playoffs a franchise-record eight straight seasons, why throw away a top player so hastily?

The only way Crowell would not have made the Bills a better defense down the homestretch would have been unforeseen complications.

The Bills have an unblemished record. But that doesn't mean that haven't already made a major mistake.