BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Donte Whitner doesn't have any difficulty dealing with the love-hate relationship he has developed with Bills fans on Twitter for much of this offseason. And it hasn't hardened the soft spot the safety still has for Buffalo no matter what Bills general manager Buddy Nix has to say.
Unsure of what the future holds, Whitner is working out in Miami anxiously waiting for the NFL labor dispute to end while making sure to keep every one of his options open.
And yes, Whitner told The Associated Press by phone on Thursday, his future could include returning to play in Buffalo no matter what his critics -- "haters," he refers to them -- on Twitter might think.
"Twitter is fun. I don't mind being cussed out," said Whitner, who in recent days has exchanged messages on Twitter with those who have referred to him as "whiny," and called him "a joke."
"Bills fans are very passionate. It has to go on someone, and I'm not going to hide from it," Whitner said. "I believe when I get back to Buffalo and help turn this thing around, everything will be forgotten."
Whitner's reference to "when I get back" also was a way for him to respond to comments that Nix made this past week about the player's future.
"He actually said he didn't think I wanted to be there so I wouldn't," Whitner said, referring to what Nix had told a Buffalo radio station. "Well, I have something to say about that. I don't think I've ever said that I don't want to be there. I do want to be a Buffalo Bill."
There is a big condition, though, for that to become a reality.
Whitner acknowledged his return to Buffalo would depend on the Bills sweetening the last contract offer they made to him in December.
What's unclear is whether Buffalo's 2006 first-round draft pick will be eligible to be a free agent in the first place after his five-year contract expired at the end of last season. The Bills did tender Whitner a one-year contract before the lockout began, and his status will depend on what rules are in place once the NFL is back in business.
If that means playing at least one more season in Buffalo, Whitner's fine with that.
"I wouldn't have any problem with that," Whitner said. "I'm not going to go in there and be a cancer to the football team. I'm not going to go in there and act out of character. I'm going to go in there and do what I've been doing for the past five years. I'm going to lead."
Whitner has relocated his base from Cleveland to Miami, where he's working out with several NFL players, including wide receivers Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Chad Ochocinco and Bills teammate Roscoe Parrish.
In one of his first interviews since the season ended, Whitner also explained why he left Buffalo in such a rush by cleaning out his locker without speaking to reporters one day after the Bills' season finale. Whitner said he was so disappointed with his contract talks that he wanted to avoid answering questions so not to put himself in position to say something he might regret.
"That morning, I got up very, very early. I went in there, took my physical, cleaned out my locker and went home," Whitner said. "And that was the end of that. It had nothing to do with the Buffalo Bills, Chan Gailey or Buddy Nix."
Whitner has had an unsettling tenure in Buffalo. Though one of the team's defensive leaders and most consistent tacklers, Whitner has been part of a unit that has ranked 15th or better in yards allowed only once during his five seasons.
The Bills finished 24th last season and were particularly porous against the run in allowing 200 rushing yards eight times.
Though he had 138 tackles to break the 100-mark for the third time in his career, Whitner's other numbers remain down. He had only one interception to up his career total to five. Whitner also has just 1.5 career sacks and five forced fumbles.
That's not the type of impact the Bills were expecting from a player they selected with the No. 8 pick out of Ohio State. But Whitner isn't happy with his production either.
"I still have room to improve and to show people that I can make those plays," he said. "I understand this football season I continue to have something to prove. And that's what I'm striving for."
Love him or hate him, it's a message Whitner can't help but share to the 15,000-plus followers of his Twitter account.
Shortly before the interview, Whitner posted this message: "Hello to my haters. Yall can't faze me."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press