Back in early May, the Buffalo Bills - still in search of a potential starter at outside linebacker after not addressing the position until the fifth round of April's Draft - hosted a free agent visit with recently released Rams OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa.
After leaving Buffalo on May 14 without a new deal, Tinoisamoa then scheduled a visit with the Chicago Bears. The veteran linebacker also received cursory interest from the New England Patriots, and he ended up cancelling a scheduled visit with the Philadelphia Eagles as well. Tinoisamoa had an opportunity to be a pretty busy boy and weigh his options with several teams, but he ultimately pared his list down to just two teams - Buffalo and Chicago - without much thought for other interested parties. It was reported in several locations that despite the length of time between visit and decision, Tinoisamoa was still very much considering the Bills.
Last Friday, Tinoisamoa signed with Chicago. He accepted a one-year deal to play alongside big-name linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs; it is expected at this point that Tinoisamoa will win the third linebacker job for the Bears and play on all downs except nickel downs, giving way to Urlacher and Briggs in sub-package formations.
"Win the job" is the key phrase in that last paragraph - because if Tinoisamoa himself is to be believed, the chance to earn his playing time, as opposed to receiving it upon inking his deal, was his motivating factor in signing with the Bears.
''There was opportunity to go to other teams, but it was like, 'We're going to give you the job,''' Tinoisamoa said. ''And for me, that was awkward because I know there were guys who had been working since the end of last season, coming into this year and all the time they put in, and they felt like they were the starter. The fact that I have to come and earn a job, it definitely makes me more hungry because now I know I have to earn my job.''
There are a couple of ways to look at this. Perhaps the destination prepared to hand immediate playing time to Tinoisamoa was the one he canceled on - the Eagles.
Then there's the idea that Tinoisamoa chose Chicago over Buffalo because the Bills were prepared to pencil the veteran in as the starting SAM linebacker. Right now, the Bears are letting third-year pro Nick Roach - he of 41 career tackles - run with the first unit. Doesn't it seem likely that the Bills could have offered the same fake challenge in Buffalo? I mean, Keith Ellison has 177 career tackles; doesn't that make him more than four times better than Roach or something? Ellison is clearly a much trickier hurdle to leap for a starting spot.
We get all of the reasons that any free agent would choose Chicago over Buffalo - Jay Cutler; Urlacher and Briggs; head coaching preference; Chicago's a bit closer to home (San Diego) than Buffalo; yeah, maybe we should have listed Buffalo's nine-season playoff drought and four straight winless seasons first.
But less job security? The right to earn your keep? Listen, Pisa - we're in a recession; now's not the time for chivalry. All you had to do was ask, and we'd have thrown you in a steel cage with Ellison, Pat Thomas, Alvin Bowen and Nic Harris in an exotic
fight to the death fight for the starting job. That way, none of those four Bills would have felt badly if you'd have beaten them out as expected. At least Nick Roach, along with Tinoisamoa, will preserve his professional dignity.