Bills Panthers Football

Buffalo Bills' Eric Wood on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. The Panthers won 9-3. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Bob Leverone

The rumor mill was at full strength Friday morning after reports circulated that a Buffalo Bills player sustained a career-ending injury. Without the player's identity and with plenty of speculation about who it could be, it was easy to wonder if this rumor was actually true. 

Unfortunately, it is. 

Eric Wood, the Bills' longtime starting center, confirmed on Twitter Friday afternoon that he was diagnosed with a neck injury. The diagnosis came after his season-ending physical with the team, he said. 

"After consultation with Dr. Cappuccino and other physicians, I was informed that I was no longer cleared to play football, even with surgery or further treatment," Wood tweeted. He will make a formal announcement at 1 p.m. Monday, according to the team. 

The first priority here is Wood's health. It's clear based on the information we know now that he couldn't play with this injury or he would be putting his health and safety in jeopardy. Health and safety should come first, and it seems the player and the team recognize that's what is most important. 

The long-term picture: Losing Wood is a major blow to the Bills. He was one of the leaders on this team and brought stability to the middle of the offensive line. He was one of the longest tenured Bills. He has been with the team since he was selected in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. 

Wood faced injuries at other points in his career. His rookie season was cut short when he broke his leg. He bounced back and was the team's starting right guard in 2010. He moved to center in 2011, but he suffered a torn ACL halfway through the season. 

In 2016, Wood suffered a broken leg and missed the remainder of the season. 

Despite the major injuries he sustained, Wood always came back. After breaking his leg in 2016, he returned in 2017 and started every game, including the Bills' first playoff game in 17 years. 

We didn't know it at the time, but the playoff game was the last for Wood. 

He was an asset to the Bills during his time with the team. He did his job. He will go down as one of the Bills' top offensive linemen. 

Replacing Wood won't be easy. Ryan Groy could fill the void. Groy started at center when Wood was out in 2016. He is under contract with the team for the 2018 season. The Bills will need another center, though. It may become a new draft priority for the team, which already has to fill other needs. 

But the biggest blow will be to the team's leadership structure. Wood was a veteran presence. It's one thing to find a replacement for his position. But it's tough to find someone who can fill his shoes as a leader. That may be the Bills' biggest challenge of all. 

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