The Bills on the cusp of a Super Bowl (and a new stadium?)

The NFL pre-season is over.  For most teams it was not much more than a series of organized scrimmages that the teams could sell tickets to attend.  Now we will wait a week and a half for the real games.  Strange scheduling.

That doesn’t mean that there have not been a lot of things happening with the Buffalo Bills.  The Pegulas opened their wallets big-time for quarterback Josh Allen.  At the same time, however, the Pegulas played pauper as they let it slip that they must have a new stadium, all paid for with public money.  As Terry and Kim might quote Emerson, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  (It’s always good to work a little literature into the blog.)

First the easy part:  winning the Super Bowl.  The 2020 season was almost magical.  The record shows the team going 13-3 in wins and losses; except for a Hail Mary pass in Arizona it would have been 14-2. They made it to the American Conference championship game but came up short.  It was sort of reminiscent of a championship game loss to Cincinnati in January 1989 that was followed, after a “bickering Bills” season, by four consecutive appearances in the big game.

Josh Allen was transformed last year from a journeyman to one of the top four quarterbacks in the league.  It was pretty much an all-around team effort with the offense, defense and special teams all playing well.  With the team intact after the off-season and a couple promising additions there is reason to think that they will be playing in the Super Bowl in February.

The six-year $258 million contract that the ownership handed Allen last month is mind-boggling.  Just run the numbers.  In a 60 minute game there are about 11 minutes of actual play, with the rest of the time consumed by resetting the football, huddling, etc.  Say the offense is on the field half of those 11 minutes.  Multiply by the number of games times five and a half minutes; divide the annual salary by the number of minutes played.  The hourly rate is even higher than some fast food restaurants are offering now.

While of course there is training camp and five days a week of practice during the season, the real work is done on Sundays or occasional Thursdays and Saturdays.  Nice work if you can get it (assuming you can handle the permanent damage to your brain and body).

As good as the team looks now there are obstacles in the way of where the team wants to go.  Maybe the Patriots, Jets, Dolphins, Chiefs and Buccaneers all got better since last season too.

Injuries to key players often derail the best of teams.  The Bills have a decent backup quarterback in Mitch Trubisky but there are many stars on the team who don’t have such credible backups.

And then, of course, there is the opponent that has been pretty much unbeatable so far, COVID-19.  The NFL has substantially tightened their protocols about what happens to a team that has multiple players out due to positive coronavirus tests, up to and including forfeiture of a game and the loss of pay.

Here is where the Bills come up short.  Associated Press reports that about 93 percent of all NFL players have been vaccinated.  Bills General Manager Brandon Beane is coy about such things but it appears that the Bills’ vaccination rate is at or below 80 percent, perhaps the lowest in the league.

We know where loud-mouth receiver Cole Beasley stands, but what about the rest of the team? Beasley is on the down side of his career; doesn’t a troublemaker in the locker room hurt the team? What about a united team being the most important factor in winning?

It would seem that the Pegulas had some leverage with getting Allen vaccinated as he signed his big contract, but we don’t know that.  It’s almost like there is a cone of silence among sports reporters in town on the subject.

If 20 percent of the team (10 members of a 53 man roster) is unvaccinated the team enters the season at great risk.  A real opportunity could go for naught.  Inquiring minds want to know:  who besides Beasley is unvaccinated?  Aren’t there any leaders on the team who can drive that point home?

A new place to play

Seeing pictures in the Buffalo News recently about how parts of the stadium, originally known as Rich, have deteriorated with nearly fifty years of exposure to the weather kind of surprised me; the upper deck looked pretty bad.  Like it or not, the building built for $22 million in the early seventies has seen better days.

Whether or not leaking out the potential cost of a new stadium and how it might be financed was for shock and awe purposes, that nonetheless was the result of such stories.  What is amazing is how the idea of building a new stadium has gone almost overnight from community chitchat to nearly a fait accompli.

What do you actually get for $1.4 billion that is so much different that a $22 million stadium that has been twice remodeled in the past 25 years at the cost of nearly a quarter billion dollars?  The plan seems to be to build a new facility in Orchard Park next to the existing building.  The surrounding developments that often go with a new stadium like hotels and restaurants seem unlikely in an area surrounded by empty fields and lower population density.

How fancy can you make the luxury boxes that most of us will never get near?  What do you put in the concourses besides a few hot dog and sushi stands?  How big does the scoreboard need to be?

We might know the answers to such questions if the Bills had released the study we hear about that explains why Orchard Park is the preferred site and what is intended to go into the building.  Before anyone gets serious about a new building the public needs to see that report.

After the opening proposal of no private investment, how much cash would the Pegulas and the NFL put into the project?  Where would the heavy lift of public funds come from?

There are a lot more questions than answers to these and other issues concerning a new football stadium.  Some transparency – a great deal of transparency – is needed before any serious negotiations take place on the subject.  Transparency is a subject often raised but seldom seen.  Stay tuned.

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