ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Stopping short of announcing his retirement, the Buffalo Bills' top pass-rusher Aaron Schobel wanted to inform the team to start moving on without him.
"I'm leaning toward not playing, but I don't want to make a decision and then change my mind," the defensive end told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his home in Texas on Thursday. "For the Bills, I'd just tell them to go on without me."
Schobel said he has not spoken with the Bills in about two months and added he has no intention of attending the team's mandatory minicamp, which opens in less than two weeks. He has spent his entire nine-year NFL career in Buffalo and, with 78 sacks, ranks rank second on the Bills behind only Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.
Bills general manager Buddy Nix on Thursday said the team's position regarding Schobel has not changed, and referred to comments he made in March.
"The ball is in his court," Nix said then. "If he wants to play, we certainly want him back. If he wants to retire, we wish him the best."
Though the 32-year-old Schobel stressed he's not formally announcing his retirement, he did begin reflecting on a career that featured two Pro Bowl selections. The downside was he played on a Bills team that failed to make the playoffs and enjoyed only one winning season, a 9-7 finish in 2004.
"I've had a decent career. I know the wins and losses weren't all that fine, but looking back, I wouldn't change anything I've done," he said.
Selected by Buffalo in the second round of the 2001 draft out of TCU, Schobel and punter Brian Moorman entered this offseason as the team's longest-tenured players. Schobel has four years left on a $50.5 million contract extension he signed before the 2007 season.
Schobel's contract includes a $2 million roster bonus he was due in March. That payment is on hold until Schobel reports to the team and passes a physical because he had minor surgery to repair an elbow injury shortly after the season ended. In March, Schobel said he was in no rush to take a physical because he hadn't made up his mind on whether to play this season.
Because Schobel is still under contract, the Bills have the option to fine the player if he misses mandatory minicamp practices, which open June 23, and training camp, which opens July 29.
After missing 11 games with a foot injury in 2008, Schobel bounced back last year to lead the Bills with 10 sacks — the most he's had since registering a career-best 14 in 2006.
He's spent the entire offseason away from Buffalo, and has missed all 12 of the team's spring voluntary minicamp sessions.
Schobel first broached the prospect of retirement at the end of last season, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family, which he has permanently relocated from Buffalo to his home in Texas this offseason. He has also sold his Buffalo-area home, and was intending to rent in the event he played this season.
There are other reasons keeping Schobel from playing. He has grown tired of having to prove himself to another coach. Hired in January, Chan Gailey becomes the Bills' fourth head coach since 2001.
This season, Schobel would also have to make the switch to outside linebacker as the Bills are making the switch to a 3-4 scheme.
The Bills have already begun making plans in the event Schobel doesn't return. This past week, they signed six-year veteran linebacker Reggie Torbor to a two-year contract.
In his last talks with the team, Schobel had expressed hope to work out a deal that would allow him to get certain days off to travel home to be with his family.
"There would be a couple of things to change my mind," Schobel said. "It ain't over yet, but we'll see what happens."
Schobel then joked that he plans to return to Buffalo at some point because he can't resist the city's chicken wings.
Longtime friend and teammate Chris Kelsay wasn't entirely surprised by Schobel's comments about his future.
"To be completely honest, without him ever telling me one way or another, I kind of got that impression," Kelsay said, following practice. He added the he and the team will miss Schobel if he does not return.
"His play speaks for itself," Kelsay said. "You turn the game film on Monday mornings, and that's a guy that plays his heart out on the field."
Moorman agreed that losing Schobel would be a big blow to the Bills.
"I know he's at the end of his career and probably doesn't want to go through another building thing," Moorman said. "But I still think we have the talent to win this year, and I think he would help us win games."