By Tim Graham
Leodis McKlevin wants to play where he's valued as a cornerback more than as a return man.
The Buffalo Bills were low on star power this season, but McKelvin provided luminous moments on special teams. He was selected for the Pro Football Writers of America's All-NFL team and USA Football's All-Fundamentals team as a returner.
On locker clean-out day two weeks ago, McKelvin reaffirmed his opinion that he should be considered a cornerback before all else, and that's how he expects to be approached as his contract comes to an end in March.
"I should be looked at as a No. 2 or at worst a No. 3," McKelvin said. "I still strongly believe that I can play in this league, that I can be a starter. I know I'm a starter.
"That's pretty much what I'm looking forward to, to go out there and work hard, grind hard and get ready for next season."
Buffalo News reporter Jay Skurski this morning cast a spotlight on the Bills' 2013 free-agent class. Of that group, McKelvin's situation is one of the trickier ones for the Bills' front office.
Cornerbacks make more money than return specialists, who are viewed as fungible by many NFL executives. The Bills have other return men such as Brad Smith and Justin Rogers.
The Bills already invested big money in McKelvin when they drafted him 11th overall in 2008, but they got very little in return. Sure, he has been a dazzling return man, but an 11th overall pick should be his team's top cornerback -- and fans often let him know it.
He was the first cornerback off the draft board, ahead of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (16th) and Aqib Talib (20th) and Mike Jenkins (25th).
McKelvin has six career interceptions, never more than two in a season. He started three games as a rookie. He suffered a broken leg in his second season and played just three games. He became a regular starter in 2010 but frequently was scorched in coverage and lost the job.
He started only six games in 2011 and four games this season because Aaron Williams got hurt in Week Nine.
"I went out there and played to the best of my abilities," McKelvin said of his time in Buffalo. "I put everything out there. I started from the bottom up. I did special teams, whatever you wanted me to do. I did everything, did returns, played corner, played nickel.
"I'm just striving to get better and better as the years go on. It's not how you start. It's how you finish."
McKelvin wasn't flawless as a return man. He infamously fumbled away a chance to defeat the New England Patriots in Foxborough three seasons ago, botching a late kickoff that allowed Tom Brady to execute a dramatic comeback.
The blunder led to one of Western New York's more disconcerting fan reactions. Vandals defaced McKelvin's front lawn with vulgarities.
McKelvin was noncommittal about his plans to stay or leave, but said he would be open to re-signing with the Bills.
"They gave me a chance to reach my goals and become an NFL player," McKelvin said. "I believe in this organization."
But few players to come through One Bills Drive have been more confident in themselves. Regardless of his struggles here, McKelvin wants a chance to play cornerback somewhere.
"I feel like I'm young," McKelvin said. "I still can go out here and compete. I can help a team win, no matter where that situation may be. Just go out there and play ball."