While signing autographs and posing for pictures outside the West End Walmart last weekend, Dwan Edwards also experienced a variety of reactions from football fans on his recent switch from the Baltimore Ravens to Buffalo Bills.
“We get to start redecorating our rooms now,” said one woman, flanked by three children.
“I’m not a Bills’ fan,” blurted out an older woman as she paused for a moment of banter at his booth.
“I wasn’t a Bills’ fan until about three months ago,” Edwards responded with a wide grin.
Now the 29-year-old Billings native, a mobile 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive end, can’t wait to don Buffalo’s distinctive red and blue uniform in what will be his seventh National Football League season.
As a free agent, Edwards signed a four-year contract with the Bills in mid-March that could potentially be worth as much as $18 million.
“It’s definitely a lot different for me being with a new team, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go up there and kind of make my mark and be a huge piece in the foundation of rebuilding with the Bills,” he said.
Edwards, who was also a football star at Columbus High School and Oregon State University, was in Billings to help promote his popular Dwan Edwards Elite Football Camp. It will be held July 10 on Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium and has already reached its capacity of around 300 youngsters.
“Man, I love it. I love being able to do it,” Edward said of the non-contact camp, which is now in its third year. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s all worth it, especially when you go to the camp and you see all of those kids.”
Having an NFL player meet and greet youngsters in grades five through eight and offer football pointers and inspiration “was something that wasn’t available for me,” Edwards said. “I see how happy kids get when I sign autographs for them. Just saying hello or shaking somebody’s hand, you never know the difference you can make on somebody. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Edwards, who is fresh off of Buffalo’s organized team activities and mini-camps, is also relishing the sense of renewal being with the Bills offers. He wore jersey No. 93 with the Ravens, but will be wearing his old Oregon State number (98) with Buffalo.
“I’m expecting to have my best year of my career,” he said.
Edwards is coming off his finest NFL season to date, accumulating 57 tackles and two sacks for the perennially tough Ravens, who were in the playoffs last season. He also recovered two fumbles — including one for his first NFL touchdown.
“I’ve been around such great players — Ray (Lewis), Steve McNair, Deion Sanders, Jonathan Ogden — and I’ve learned so much from just watching and being around them for so long that I feel like I know what it takes to be successful in this league,” Edwards said. “I just want to bring that to Buffalo in any way that I can.”
The Bills, who have been absent from the playoffs for the past 10 season, are definitely counting on Edwards’ playing ability, knowledge and leadership qualities.
“I feel like I can go out there and make a ton of plays,” Edwards said. “Just being up there with the guys and getting to know them, I think, especially from a defensive standpoint, we’re going to be so much better than they were last year.”
Buffalo compiled a 6-10 record last year and is looking to improve its defense by switching to a 3-4 formation, which offers more flexibility, puts more athletic personnel on the field (including ex-Bronco linebacker Andra Davis) and is more effective at stopping the run.
“I think they want me to be a leader,” said Edwards, who started in nine regular-season games for the Ravens last season. “I’m one of the guys that has the most experience with the 3-4, so I want to be the guy that guys can come to if they have questions.”
Edwards, who spent all of the 2008 season on injured reserve following surgery for a bulging disc in his neck, wasn’t a free agent for very long. He quickly signed with Buffalo after also visiting with Seattle and Denver.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a business decision,” he said of joining the Bills. “From a business perspective it was the right place for me, but in talking to the coaches it was also a place where they really wanted me to be there. That’s really all you can ask for … have a team that wants you, wants you to be the guy and have that faith in you. It’s a great place.”
Edwards has also discovered it’s a little bit like home.
“People are very friendly out in Buffalo,” he said. “I’ve noticed that more than anything. It kind of reminds me of here. It’s definitely not like Baltimore. People are very friendly. They have diehard fans out there. They’re ready for a winner and I hope we can deliver.”