Why Bills' Lorenzo Alexander embraces the Buffalo winter

Lorenzo Alexander is one of the few Bills players who don't fly south for the winter. Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

Five weeks after the Bills' 2018 season ended, Buffalo was brought to a halt for more than two days.

Some of the record-breaking cold that swept across the upper Midwest during the final week of January blew over Lake Erie and into western New York, churning up lake-effect snow and blizzard conditions that made driving difficult and flying nearly impossible.

The vast majority of the about 70 players who finished the regular season on the Bills' roster had scattered shortly after the Dec. 30 finale, making their customary exodus out of one of the NFL's harshest winter climates toward warmer weather and their families.

Yet for the second consecutive offseason, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander did not leave town. In fact, he turned down a chance to play his 15th NFL season elsewhere by signing a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Bills on Jan. 16 -- almost two months before he would have been able to negotiate with other teams as an unrestricted free agent.

Alexander is joined by only a small group of other Bills players, including defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, in hunkering down this winter long after the final whistle of the season. Last offseason, Alexander was believed to be the only player not rehabilitating an injury who remained in Buffalo throughout the year.

The dearth of Bills players choosing to stick around feeds the region's reputation for bad weather, but Alexander believes life in the area is what you make of it.

"Obviously the weather is the weather," he said. "It's not a great city when it comes to wanting to go outside all of the time and hang out. It's cold. You get the snowstorms like what we got last week. But I've embraced it. I think my family has. I think other people, like Star, has as well.

"My son has gotten involved in hockey. We've embraced that. If you're not from here, you don't want to come to the cold. I don't think anybody that's not from here -- you grew up in California, Arizona, Florida -- you don't necessarily want to be cold."

Other aspects of Buffalo's reputation -- including its perceived lack of entertainment options and substandard team facilities -- are not as deserved these days. The Bills extensively renovated their building in 2014 and have spent the past several months expanding their weight room into a more wide-ranging sports performance center.

"We have a great facility up here," Alexander said. "I think Buffalo doesn't get enough credit for the theaters and concerts that come here during this time. All the cool restaurants that have been popping up all around the city and that have been here. If you want to do something, there's definitely stuff to do. It's never going to compare to a New York, Los Angeles, Miami or Arizona type of city. But that's not what this city is about. It's more about the people and relationships versus the night life."

There are also practical reasons why Alexander, 35, braves the weather and will stay in Buffalo through the 15 weeks from the end of the regular season until players report to offseason workouts April 15. Alexander and his wife, Manjanique, are building a house in Arizona where they will live after his expected retirement following the 2019 season, but that home is not yet ready. Until then, their daughter prefers to remain in her Buffalo-area school and keep her teachers. In the past, the family maintained an offseason home in Virginia following Alexander's seven years (2006-12) with the Redskins.

The increased time spent in the area -- aside from family vacations -- offers Alexander a chance to continue work in the community that earned him his team's nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in each of the past two seasons. Alexander was recognized for the nomination with a trip to the Super Bowl last week, but his flight to Atlanta was canceled and pushed back a day because of the blizzard.

Alexander was an obvious choice for the Bills' nomination. He has mentored the South Park High School football team in Buffalo since 2017, sharing his story with the students and hosting the team at a performance of "Hamilton" in a local theater. Through the ACES Foundation charity, which he founded in 2008, Alexander has hosted events and donated to community centers in Buffalo. He has also been a frequent participant in team- and league-sponsored community events.

"[Being in Buffalo] continues to allow me to build those relationships and touch people," Alexander. "If I'm not here, then you can't build relationships. That's more important than me donating any money or putting on any event. Being seen on somewhat of a regular basis by the people we're trying to serve or impact, that's what makes the lifelong type of changes."

While some players choose to train at other professional facilities, much of Alexander's offseason workouts will take place at the Bills' headquarters. He attends Pilates classes in the area but has clocked in daily to One Bills Drive for other "active rest" activities, such as riding a Peloton and receiving treatment from the training staff. More strength-based exercise will ramp up in the coming weeks.

"I'm a firm believer in never truly allowing yourself to get out of shape," he said. "At my age, something small could turn into something big, real quickly."

Alexander, a team captain and member of the NFL Players Association's executive committee, has played some of his best football since signing with the Bills in 2016. Known as mostly a special-teams ace throughout his career, Alexander has continued to contribute in that phase while becoming a key part of the Bills' defense. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016 after recording 12.5 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles and has added another 9.5 sacks, two interceptions and five forced fumbles in the past two seasons.