- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Corey Graham’s desire to play for his hometown Buffalo Bills was so strong, the free agent cornerback never let the Washington Redskins finish making their pitch.

Informed by his agent the Bills were making a serious bid to sign him, Graham canceled a scheduled dinner with the Redskins’ coaching staff to accept Buffalo’s offer.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Graham said during a conference call on Thursday, a day after agreeing to a four-year contract. “To come home, and have the opportunity to play in front of my family and friends, and play for a team that I actually always cared about, it’s like a dream come true.”

Growing up in Buffalo, Graham rooted for the Bills and regularly attended their home games. Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas and special teams star Steve Tasker were among his favorite players. And Graham was miffed at the Bills for failing to give him a sniff in the 2007 draft, when the Chicago Bears selected him in the fifth round.

Those lingering pangs of disappointment are now behind him.

The seventh-year player is coming home as part of a modestly priced free agent class, including guard Chris Williams and linebacker Keith Rivers, which the Bills are counting on to complement a young, developing roster.

“I definitely believe I can be a piece,” said Graham, who spent the past two seasons with Baltimore. “I think Buffalo is an up-and-coming team. I mean, they’ve been good over the years. You need one or two pieces to put together and turn everything around.”

Spoken like a true fan.

The Bills hardly have been good during a 14-year run in which they own the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. And yet, they’re coming off a 6-10 finish under first-year coach Doug Marrone, during which they showed signs of promise. That was particularly evident on defense, which had a franchise-record 57 sacks and finished 10th in the NFL in fewest yards allowed - Buffalo’s best ranking since finishing second in 2004.

Graham’s addition fills two potential holes. He first carved his reputation for being a solid special teams player, something the Bills‘ young unit lacked last season. And Graham proved a capable spot starter in 2012 during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run.

Taking over for injured starter Jimmy Smith, Graham started the final eight games of the season and all four playoff games. His most memorable performance came in the AFC divisional playoff game, a 38-35 double-overtime win at Denver in which Graham intercepted Peyton Manning twice.

The first he returned for a touchdown. The second one set up the decisive field goal.

Overall, the 2011 Pro Bowl selection has 10 interceptions in 109 career games, including 23 starts, and has not missed a game since his rookie season.

“He is a playmaker defensively and on special teams,” general manager Doug Whaley said. “We believe he will help the Buffalo Bills improve in both areas in years to come.”

The Bills turned their attention to Graham after Nolan Carroll visited the team’s facility, but signed with Philadelphia. Graham intends to travel to Buffalo on Friday to sign his contract and meet the coaching staff to discuss his potential role. He’s open to anything.

“I still have things to prove, but that’s not what I’m about,” Graham said. “I’m at the point of my career where I’m going to do whatever it takes.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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