PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills claimed former New York Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali off waivers Wednesday, one day after the Jets released him following a locker-room altercation in which Enemkpali punched quarterback Geno Smith, breaking his jaw.
Bills coach Rex Ryan was the Jets' head coach when the team drafted Enemkpali in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Ryan was subdued and at times defensive while speaking to reporters Wednesday night shortly after the Bills announced Enemkpali's signing, saying he had yet to speak to Enemkpali.
"We all know what happened and things like that," Ryan said. "Obviously, it was a terrible thing that happened. But IK made a mistake, there's no question about that. But instead of listening to this person, that person or whatever -- we had IK last year. A lot of us were around IK, and he was a good teammate."
The NFL confirmed Wednesday that it is reviewing the incident, and Enemkpali could face penalties under the league's personal conduct policy. Ryan said Wednesday that the Bills have "talked to the league" about potential discipline.
Smith will have surgery and could be out six to 10 weeks.
"If we didn't think this young man or anybody else would be successful on the football field, in our locker room or in the community, he would not be here," Ryan said. "And I know I've said that before about other people, but I mean it."
Ryan said general manager Doug Whaley is "leaning on him" in deciding to claim Enemkpali.
"I think [owner Terry Pegula] has confidence in our beliefs, and in this case, Doug is showing a lot of faith in me as well," Ryan said. "That we specifically, guys that have been with IK, believe that he can be successful here."
Added Ryan: "I do have supreme confidence in myself, especially when I know the individual. Some of these guys that have these so-called issues or whatever, everybody's got things. But if I know that person, and I feel confident in the fact that my locker room, that this guy will be successful in here, then yeah, I feel confident that he'll fit right in."
Ryan had also yet to address the move with players but expected they will support the decision.
"They know ... look, not everybody is perfect," Ryan said. "You can look at every person in that locker room. Not everybody is perfect. Nobody is perfect. But they know that I feel in my heart that this young man will be successful for us."
Enemkpali was released by the Jets almost immediately after the incident with Smith. He also could face criminal charges if Smith chooses to pursue them.
Running back Fred Jackson said Enemkpali would essentially join the Bills with a clean slate and that he didn't owe his new teammates an explanation.
"Not at all. It's something that I care nothing about," Jackson said. "When he gets here, it's not something that I'm gonna ask him about, trying to figure out what happened, because I frankly don't care. He's a guy that's coming in here to help us win football games, and that's what he comes in here and he does. I could care less what he did in New York."
Jackson said Ryan hadn't discussed Enemkpali's addition to the team with players.
"It's not something that we need to address," Jackson said. "Like I said, what happens in New York happened there. It's not something that we have to worry about here."
Not everyone around Buffalo was as encouraged as Ryan or as open as Jackson at the prospect of Enemkpali joining the Bills.
Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County (N.Y.) executive who has been involved in the Bills' stadium negotiations in the past, expressed disappointment via Twitter.
As a season ticket holder and fan my personal opinion is this pickup is embarrassing. We can do better https://t.co/sZT41OVlr0— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) August 12, 2015
"I think it's clear that it was a mistake," Ryan said. "There's no question. Nothing justifies hitting somebody and all that stuff. And I'm not trying to say that it wasn't a mistake. I recognize it was a mistake. But I also believe that he's gonna learn from this.
"We'll give him a chance to compete. And there's no guarantee that this young man makes our team. Obviously, the NFL with any case, anything like this happens, the NFL will investigate it and all that stuff. And so we'll see. But from what I know about this young man, I think he'll come in here and do just fine."
Ryan said there was no "gamesmanship" with the Jets involved in the decision.
"I'm not concerned with anybody else's locker room," Ryan said. "I feel great about my locker room, our locker room. So I can tell you that much. But about anybody else's or whatever ... number one, that's not for me to say. It's certainly not fair for me to judge anybody else's. I'm not in there."
Enemkpali's altercation with Smith resulted from a problem over a $600 debt, according to ESPN sources. Smith accepted a $600 plane ticket from Enemkpali to appear at Enemkpali's football camp in Pflugerville, Texas, on July 11, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Problems arose when Smith did not show up for the camp, which took place days after someone close to Smith was killed in a motorcycle crash in Miami, sources said.
After Smith did not attend, Enemkpali demanded Smith refund the $600 he allegedly used to purchase the plane ticket. Smith told Enemkpali he would reimburse him the money, but he had not as of Tuesday morning. Enemkpali confronted Smith about the money on Tuesday, and the confrontation ended in a punch and a broken jaw.
A source told ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark that Smith put his finger in Enemkpali's face just before the punch was thrown.
Enemkpali released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he was sorry for his actions.
"I apologize to the Jets organization, coaches, teammates and fans," Enemkpali said. "Geno and I let our frustration get the best of us, but I should have just walked away from the situation. I deeply regret and apologize for my actions. It was never my intention to harm anyone. I appreciate the opportunity I had with the Jets."