The Buffalo Bills have claimed Ikemefuna Enemkpali off waivers from the New York Jets after the linebacker was released for breaking quarterback Geno Smith's jaw with a punch in the team's locker room.
Bills coach Rex Ryan announced the move shortly before practice. Without excusing what Enemkpali did, Ryan called the player "a good teammate" and said he believes the linebacker can learn from the mistake that prompted the Jets to immediately release him.
Ryan, who took over the Bills in January, is very familiar with Enemkpali. Ryan was the Jets' coach last season during the player's rookie season.
"I think it's clear it was a mistake. Nothing justifies hitting somebody and all that stuff. And I'm not trying to say that it wasn't a mistake," Ryan said. "But I also believe that he's going to learn from this. And we'll give him a chance to compete."
Though he's not yet spoken with Enemkpali, Ryan said he approached general manager Doug Whaley to discuss putting in a claim for the player. The two then consulted Bills new owner Terry Pegula, who provided his approval.
Ryan said there's no guarantee Enemkpali will make the team. Though it's unclear when he'll report to the Bills, Ryan didn't rule out the possibility of Enemkpali playing in Buffalo's preseason opener against Carolina on Friday.
The Bills and Jets are AFC East rivals, and their first meeting is scheduled for prime time on Thursday, Nov. 12 at the Meadowlands.
Smith should be back in the Jets lineup by then, because he's projected to miss between six and 10 weeks.
Enemkpali could face discipline from the NFL under its personal conduct policy.
An NFL spokesman said Wednesday that the league is reviewing the situation. Any incident involving workplace violence that occurs off the football field falls under the NFL's personal conduct policy. That means any team interested in signing Enemkpali, a sixth-round pick last year out of Louisiana Tech, might have to weigh a possible suspension.
Enemkpali, who had three tackles in six games last season, could also face legal charges if Smith pursues them.
"I thought it was childish, either way, and it was stupid," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "But we have to live with the results."
The Jets were off from practice Wednesday as they prepare to head to Detroit for their preseason opener on Thursday night. The team will then have another day off from the practice field before returning Saturday.
The incident clearly rattled and angered many Jets players, who were stunned that something of this nature happened in their locker room.
"This isn't a UFC match," Jets guard Willie Colon said. "We're football players, not fighters."
Enemkpali, from Pflugerville, Texas, has been in previous trouble for fighting. He was suspended from the Louisiana Tech team in 2011 after being arrested for an off-campus incident in which he was booked with disturbing the peace and battery of a police officer.
But since joining the Jets, Enemkpali had made a mostly favorable impression on his teammates.
"Since I've known IK, all he's done is come to work and try to become a guy for this organization," Colon said. "He's always played his tail off. So details at this point are here and there. Our quarterback is sitting at home with a broken jaw, we have an outside linebacker that isn't with us anymore. It's a loss."
Bowles said Enemkpali was "remorseful" when he spoke to him, and the linebacker later released a statement through his agent, apologizing to the team and fans.
"Geno and I let our frustration get the best of us, but I should have just walked away from the situation," Enemkpali said. "I deeply regret and apologize for my actions. It was never my intention to harm anyone. I appreciate the opportunity I had with the Jets."