Team Report - BUFFALO BILLS

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

Billionaire Donald Trump told the Buffalo News that not only would he want to be majority owner of the Bills, but he wouldn't move the team if he bought them.

"I'm going to give it a heavy shot," Trump told the newspaper by phone from his office in Manhattan. "I would love to do it, and if I can do it I'm keeping it in Buffalo."

Trump first disclosed his interest in the Bills as a potential part of a group after owner Ralph Wilson Jr. died last month.

"I live in New York, and it's easier for me to go to Buffalo than any other place," said Trump, who once owned the USFL's New Jersey Generals. "Where am I going to move it, some place on the other side of the country, where I have to travel for five hours?"

Trump has reportedly met with Bills president Russ Brandon twice.

"I think it's going to go quickly," Trump said of a sale. "I hope it goes fast."

The Buffalo News previously reported that the Bills could be sold as soon as October.

Although Trump wants to own the Bills, he said he is not going to get into a bidding war for the team.

"Somebody could come out and bid through the roof for the Bills, something crazy," Trump said. "In which case, I'm sorry I can't do anything about that. You have to be sane. But maybe there's not going to be any other bids. You never know with these things."

According to the Buffalo News, rock star Jon Bon Jovi reportedly could be the front man for Toronto company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but nobody from that supposed group has spoken definitively for the record. Other potential suitors could come from Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and former Sabres owner Tom Golisano.

Forbes estimates that Trump is worth over 13 times more than Bon Jovi at $3.9 billion to $290 million, which means Bon Jovi would need some financial backers in his group.

Any sale of an NFL team must be approved by 75 percent of NFL owners, thus 24 owners would have to vote in favor of the Bills being sold to a new buyer.

Trump insisted his casino dealings wouldn't impede his purchase and denied any hard feelings still exist from the USFL's $1.7 billion antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in 1984.

The NFL prohibits all personnel to have any involvement with gambling operations. Trump's name is on two Atlantic City casinos, the Trump Taj Mahal and the Trump Plaza, but he said he owns only a small stake in those properties anymore.

"It's a public company, and I could sell instantaneously," Trump said. "So that wouldn't be a conflict at all.

"I did very well with Atlantic City. It was a great experience. When we sold the casinos, they didn't change the name. But I'm not involved, not on the board."

Mary Wilson, the widow of the former owner, is now the controlling owner. Ralph Wilson died on March 25 at the age of 95. Mary Wilson, whom he married in 1999, was his third wife.

The Bills said in a statement on April 3 that the franchise will eventually be sold.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi is part of a group interested in purchasing the Buffalo Bills, according --to reports.

The team is expected to be put up for sale this fall after the death last month of 95-year-old owner Ralph Wilson.

"Jon remains passionate in his pursuit of an NFL franchise," Bon Jovi's publicist, Ken Sunshine, told the Toronto Sun on Thursday.

Bon Jovi had previously expressed interest in becoming an NFL owner. A potential bid could be in partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the NBA's Toronto Raptors and the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tim Leiweke, the company's president and CEO, has close ties to Bon Jovi, who does not appear to have the capital required to purchase an NFL team outright and would need other investors. Bon Jovi has an estimated worth of $290 million, far short of a possible $1 billion sale price for the Bills.

It apparently is not the first time that Bon Jovi has tried to buy a stake in an NFL franchise. Three years ago, there were reports that he attempted to purchase 15 percent of the Atlanta Falcons from owner Arthur Blank.

It remains uncertain whether a new ownership group would keep the Bills in Buffalo. Any sale of a team requires 75 percent approval from the league's owners.

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs also is mentioned as having interest in the team. He is a Buffalo native.

--The Bills acquired wide receiver Mike Williams from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday (April 4) for a sixth-round pick in this year's draft.

Williams made at least 63 catches in each of his first three seasons in the NFL but a hamstring injury limited him to just 22 receptions for 216 yards in six games last year.

New Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht were concerned about a number of incidents off the field involving Williams during this offseason. He was arrested, sued by neighbors for his conduct at a house he rented, and his brother was charged with stabbing him in the leg during an attack.

"We thank Mike for his contributions to the Buccaneers over the last four seasons," Licht said in a statement. "At this time, we felt this was best for both sides and we wish Mike well going forward."

Williams, who is from the Buffalo area, is reunited with Bills coach Doug Marrone. Williams played for Marrone at Syracuse in 2009 and was a fourth-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2010.

Marrone kicked Williams off the team in 2010 after getting into a car accident after the team's curfew. He was also suspended for academic reasons in 2008.

"Mike Williams is a competitive, tough wide receiver who has the size and athleticism to add competition to our receiver position group," Marrone said in a statement.

"We feel Mike is a player who has the ability to help our team improve. With regard to our time at Syracuse, I feel that is in the past for both of us. Today, Mike has an opportunity to get a fresh start to his career here in his hometown and regain his form as a productive player in the National Football League. We look forward to getting Mike into the facility and start our work preparing for the 2014 season once the players are free to report on April 22."

In four NFL seasons, Williams has 215 catches for 2,947 yards with 25 touchdowns.

In his first comments to the Buffalo media, Williams was asked about the need to grow up. He quickly said, "Yes, I think I do need to grow up a little bit more. I think with me having a son, it made me realize things a little bit more and how important it is, and what type of future I have for him and my family. A lot of people are depending on me, so you're right, I do have to grow up.

"I think one of my big mistakes is really trying to take care of too many people and trying to make too many people happy. Instead of me going out and doing what I have to do first, and then whatever after that."

When asked about several incidents while he was in Tampa, Williams said, "Two of those stories was actually made up. They don't want me to talk about the stories, so I'm not going to get into that. But all cases was dropped."

He believes he will be able to handle playing in his hometown and that there won't be added distractions.

Williams said, "I've been in the league for five years. Even with me being in Tampa, people would try to fly down, get 100 tickets, this that. I learned how to adjust. One big thing is, I learned how to say no. Me being back home I'm going to just take it like me being at Syracuse or Riverside.

"It feels great (to be home). It's a great opportunity for me to get back to see my family. I always grew up a Bills fan. It's like a dream come true. It's like waking up and living my dream again. I feel like it's a fresh start."

--Mary Wilson, the widow of former Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., is now the controlling owner, the team announced Thursday (April 3).

The Bills said in a statement that the franchise will eventually be sold.

"A process will be established at an appropriate time for the sale of the franchise," the statement said. "This process will ensure that the club complies and is faithful to NFL rules and to its obligations to New York State and Erie County. We plan to have detailed discussions with the NFL, the State and County, and others as we determine the timing and structure of any sales process."

Ralph Wilson died last week at the age of 95. Mary Wilson, whom he married in 1999, was his third wife.

Bills CEO Russ Brandon will retain operational control of the team.

"I have complete confidence in Russ Brandon, our president and CEO, to continue his duties of running the organization," Mary Wilson said in a statement. "General manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone remain empowered by Russ to run the football operation."

--Ralph Wilson Jr., the founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills, died Tuesday (March 25) at the age of 95. Club president made the announcement at the NFL meetings in Orlando.

Wilson was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the longest tenured active owner.

"No one loved the game of football more than Ralph Wilson," Brandon said. "They don't make 'em like Ralph Wilson, they just don't. He passed away peacefully at his home with his beautiful wife, Mary, and his daughters by his side."

During his ownership, the Bills won two American Football League championships (1964-65) and, after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, four consecutive AFC championships (1990-93) to reach the Super Bowl.

In last five months, three NFL owners have passed away: Bud Adams of the Tennessee Titans, William Clay Ford of the Detroit Lions and now Wilson.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement:

"Ralph Wilson was a driving force in developing pro football into America's most popular sport. He loved the game and took a chance on a start-up league in 1960 as a founding owner of the American Football League. He brought his beloved Bills to western New York and his commitment to the team's role in the community set a standard for the NFL.

"As a trusted advisor to his fellow league owners and the commissioner, Ralph always brought a principled and common-sense approach to issues. His lifelong loyalty to the game was instrumental in his richly deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We are grateful for his many contributions to the NFL and offer our heartfelt sympathy to the Wilson family."

Brandon later released a statement from the team:

"I speak for everyone within the Bills organization when I say that we are all suffering a deep and profound sadness with the passing of our Hall of Fame owner Mr. Wilson. We have lost our founder, our mentor, our friend, and this is a very difficult time for us all. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary, his daughters Christy and Dee Dee (Edith), his niece Mary and his entire family.

"Mr. Wilson had a relentless passion, a deep love for his Buffalo Bills, the City of Buffalo and the National Football League. He also loved the Bills fans and all of the people of Western New York who embraced the Bills.

"This incredible man was the personification of the Buffalo Bills. His life was grit, determination and resolve. He was bigger than life in many ways and yet he was the everyday man, driving his Ford Taurus to the local store and greeting everyone as they called out 'Hi Ralph!' He will be greatly missed by those in our community whose lives he touched.

"Mr. Wilson was a man of true integrity, charisma and a hero in every sense of the word. His service to his country in the South Pacific in World War II is well documented. He was a pioneer in the American Football League. He was instrumental in forging the merger between the AFL and the NFL. Mr. Wilson will long be remembered as a man who was true to his word and did countless acts of kindness and generosity for so many, while never seeking the limelight in doing so.

"More than anything, he wanted to bring a Super Bowl championship to Western New York. He wanted it for the players, the coaches and the franchise. But mostly he wanted it for the fans. No owner has wanted a title more for these reasons than Mr. Wilson. In the end, he was extremely proud that his Bills are the only team to have played in four consecutive Super Bowls.

"For those of us fortunate to have worked for him, we'll miss his kindness, his insight, his leadership, but mostly his sense of humor. He possessed the unique ability to turn a negative into a positive.

"Our organization, our league, our community has lost a great man."

Brandon said in the statement that the Bills' plans for future ownership would be "addressed in the near future."

"Right now all of us are absorbing this tremendous personal loss," Brandon said. "We are performing our day-to-day functions as we normally would. We understand our fans' curiosity in wanting to know what the future holds for our organization."

According to the Buffalo News, the team will be placed in a trust, which likely will control the franchise for a minimum of a few years. Eventually, the trust will sell the team, with the proceeds going to Wilson's estate, the newspaper reported.

Wilson brought major sports to Buffalo in 1959, when he joined a group that became known as "The Foolish Club," eight businessmen led by Texas oilman Lamar Hunt, who founded the AFL. The initial cost to Wilson was $25,000, and it was considered a risky venture to challenge the established NFL.

Wilson's team is valued today at roughly $870 million, based on estimates by Forbes Magazine. The Bills arguably are the single-most identifiable and unifying institution in Western New York, according to the Buffalo News.

"The strength of the Bills franchise is the passion of the fans," Wilson said after signing a 15-year lease deal in 1997. "Buffalo is a community of down-to-earth, hard-working families who, in large numbers, are also avid sports fans. You know how the people here feel about you because they are very straightforward. That is a quality I admire."

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder paid his respects in a statement.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of the great Ralph Wilson," Snyder said. "All of us have lost a NFL legend whose passion for his team was inspiring. We will always be thankful for Ralph's contributions to the development of the AFL and NFL."

Bills running back C.J. Spiller, a first-round pick of the team in 2010, issued a statement.

"I would like to send out my condolences to the entire family of Mr. Ralph Wilson," Spiller said. "He will forever be remembered and loved by myself and the rest of the Bills fans across the world. I personally want to thank Mr. Wilson for drafting me and showing me what a great organization he has built.

"As I sit here and think back, I remember first meeting him shortly before my press conference the day after the draft. He looked me in the eye and said, 'I know that you will put some points up for us.' I will not let you down, Mr. Wilson. May God be with you and your family always. This world has lost a great leader, but his legacy will surely live on forever."

Wilson was born in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 17, 1918 and moved with his family to Detroit when he was a youngster. He attended the University of Virginia and later attended law school at the University of Michigan before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. He earned his commission within a year and served aboard minesweepers in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

After the war ended he took over the successful insurance business of his father and invested in Michigan area mines and factories. He eventually purchased several manufacturing outlets, construction firms, and radio stations, and founded Ralph Wilson Industries.

Although he made his fortune in the business world, the Bills were always Wilson's No. 1 love. For most of his tenure as owner he attended all of the games, home and away, and only in last few years did he skip games, usually because the travel became too cumbersome for him, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.

The Bills will play the New York Giants in the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 3, which will be played at 8 p.m. Eastern time on NBC. Then, they will be at home against Tampa Bay in Week 3 and Detroit in Week 4, while going on the road against Carolina in Week 1 and Pittsburgh in Week 2.

--A stadium advisory committee dubbed the New Stadium Working Group is being assembled by the Buffalo Bills and New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo with a stated goal of exploring the development and construction of a new stadium in Erie County.

The New Stadium Working Group will be comprised of 21 members with seven each from the Bills, the State of New York and Erie County. As part of the lease agreement for Ralph Wilson Stadium, the group was formed to explore a new stadium, either on the same site or at another location in Erie County. A third option is what the Bills said would be a "substantial renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium."

Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon, one of the seven members representing the Buffalo franchise, announced the committee days after the death of founder and owner Ralph Wilson.

"The seven individuals we have selected for the committee are passionate about the Buffalo Bills franchise and recognize its importance, both economically and socially, to the Western New York community," Brandon said. "These individuals have a good understanding of our franchise and the National Football League. They also understand the impact of the team's relationship with the business community and the significance to all Western New Yorkers, particularly our fans."

Cuomo previously named his first six appointees and Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz announced his seven members earlier this month.

--The Bills re-signed cornerback Brandon Smith to a new contract before free agency began. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder came into the NFL with Carolina as an undrafted free agent. He joined the Bills' practice squad in September and saw action in two games, the first of his NFL career. He will compete for a backup job in the secondary.

--The Bills introduced a new variable ticket pricing plan in an effort to raise their season-ticket base, but also to help individual game sales after a season in which only two of seven games played at Ralph Wilson Stadium were legitimate sellouts. The Bills manufactured two other sellouts, and three games did not sell out. "The goal of variable pricing is to create a pricing structure that best reflects the market demand for all games," said Russ Brandon, the team president and CEO. It is expected that the Bills' eight home games (the team will not play a game in Toronto this year) will be divided into four pricing tiers based on the opponent, and the costs will be determined after the NFL schedule is released in April. Also, the Bills announced a season ticket price increase for the first time since 2010.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Guard Chris Williams signed a four-year, $13.5 million deal with the Bills.

Williams, a first-round pick (14th overall) out of Vanderbilt who was moved from tackle to guard and then released after four uneven seasons with the Chicago Bears, could unseat veteran Doug Legursky at left guard. He started 16 games with the St. Louis Rams at left guard last season.

Williams' deal includes $5.5 million guaranteed. He played on a one-year, $1.4 million deal in 2013.

He played on a one-year contract last season and said "I think it helped a lot working with (offensive line) coach (Paul) Boudreau down there. He helped me develop my game as a guard and coming here with coach (Doug) Marrone and (line) coach (Pat) Morris, I'm just really excited about it. To continue developing my game and always trying to work to get better. I think it's a great opportunity here to do that."

Asked about his move from tackle to guard, Williams said, "We had some injuries and things early on in 2009 and I ended up kicking inside because of our situation in Chicago. I was the guy most likely to move and could move the easiest, so we kicked me down and it's just been kind of in and out since then. Eventually made it my home, it's something I like to do. I like playing inside, it's fun. I'd always look for opportunities to play and find my way on the field. Wherever that is, that is where I'm going to be."

TEAM NEEDS

--LINEBACKER: The Bills would love to find a young veteran inside linebacker which would enable them to move Kiko Alonso to the outside. With Arthur Moats leaving via free agency, they also need to add depth to the unit.

--OFFENSIVE LINE: Coach Doug Marrone has let it be known he wants to upgrade the line. Ideally, he'd like to find new starters at left guard and right tackle, and add depth. That can't all be accomplished in the draft. Chris Williams is expected to be the left guard.

--QUARTERBACK: The Bills continue to say they like backup Thad Lewis, but in all honesty, he's better suited to being a third-stringer. Bringing in a veteran who could capably step in for starter EJ Manuel - who proved to be injury-prone as a rookie - is a must.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--OL Thomas Welch (not tendered as RFA) has seen limited duty since coming to Buffalo and likely won't stir much interest so a return to Buffalo is expected. He can provide depth at both tackle and guard.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--FS Jim Leonhard was brought in last year when Jairus Byrd's case of plantar fasciitis forced him to miss the first five games. He lent a veteran presence to the secondary, and because his market value shouldn't be too high, a return to Buffalo is certainly in play.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--WR Chris Hogan (tendered at $495,000) saw time as a backup in 2013, making 10 catches for 83 yards, and also became a key member of the Bills special teams units and finished the season with 10 tackles.

--FB Frank Summers (tendered at $570,000) has bounced around the league (originally he was a fifth-round pick of the Steelers in 2009) but he found a home in Buffalo last year. He played in 15 games (nine starts) and carried 12 times for 46 yards with one touchdown and proved to be a solid lead blocker.

--OL Antoine McClain (tendered at $495,000) joined the Bills midway through the season after being cut by Oakland. The 336-pounder was inactive for every game, but is expected to compete for a backup position this year.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--K Dan Carpenter: UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--TE Mike Caussin: Potential RFA; terms unknown.

--TE Scott Chandler; UFA; terms unknown.

--P Brian Moorman: Potential UFA; $955,000/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--WR Ramses Barden: FA; $1.475M/2 yrs.

--RB Anthony Dixon: UFA 49ers; $3.5M/3 yrs, $750,000 SB.

--QB Dennis Dixon: FA; $1.475M/2 yrs.

--CB Corey Graham: UFA Ravens; $16M/4 yrs.

--LB Keith Rivers: UFA Giants; $4.05M/2 yrs, $1M SB.

--LB Brandon Spikes: UFA Patriots; $3M/1 yr, $900,000 SB.

--G Chris Williams: UFA Rams; $13.5M/4 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.

--WR Mike Williams (trade Buccaneers).

--DE Jarius Wynn: UFA Cowboys; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST

--S Jairus Byrd: UFA Saints; $54M/6 yrs, $11M SB/$27.9M guaranteed.

--DE Alex Carrington: UFA Rams; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--QB Kevin Kolb (released/failed physical).

--LB Arthur Moats: UFA Steelers; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.

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