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Pollock: Busy week for Buffalo Bills

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Posted: Monday, March 10, 2014 12:45 pm

Come Tuesday, an interesting week will end for the Buffalo Bills.

Start with last Wednesday when the team announced both a one-year postponement of its ill-considered Toronto series AND a contract extension for safety Aaron Williams.

And, tomorrow, barring an absolutely unexpected reconsideration, Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd will become an ex-Bill.

In between, the team announced a season ticket price increase and an innovative variable pricing plan based on the opponent and the date a game is played.

THE TORONTO and Williams revelations were a double dose of good news. 

From Day 1, surrendering one of the Bills’ valuable regular-season home dates to a Canadian city with a substandard stadium, 90 miles from the team’s home field was an absurd concept ... except financially.

From the non-football front office’s standpoint, earning double the take ($9.8 million) of that generated by a game at “The Ralph,”  was a monetary windfall.

But it was a competitive disaster.

The Bills went 1-5 at the Rogers Center, which has about as much football ambiance as Churchill Downs.

And while Buffalo has struggled in recent seasons — everybody knows about the 14-year playoff drought — since the Toronto series began in 2008, the Bills are 20-22 at “The Ralph.” And while that’s hardly glittering, it’s way better than winning 1-of-6 before an apathetic crowd whose numbers were artificially inflated.

The coup de grace, of course, was this past season when Buffalo led the going-through-the-motions Falcons, 14-0, after only 10 minutes.  But a pathetic crowd of 38,969 saw Atlanta come back and win 34-31 in overtime.

Yeah, the Bills made their share of mistakes, but the consensus was, had the game been played in the freezing temperatures and occasional snow of Orchard Park, the Falcons wouldn’t have had the character to rally from a two-touchdown deficit.

That reality got Buffalo’s executives thinking ... especially since the five-year contract extension that followed the original deal of the same length, paid little more than the team earns for a game at “The Ralph.”

And while it was only this coming season’s game that was canceled, it’s unlikely the Bills will ever return to Toronto for a regular-season game. Clearly, the Rogers people couldn’t be happy with a money-losing proposition, which is likely why they seemingly were so willing get out of the 2014 game.

The decision, of course, delights Buffalo’s players and coaches and probably most of the front office.

The last thing a struggling team needs is to give away the competitive advantage of a home game ... no matter how much it earns for that concession.

THE SAME day the cancellation of the 2014 Toronto game was announced, the Bills also revealed the extension given to Williams ... a reported four years worth $26 million.

The former second-round draft choice (2011) had been a bust at his collegiate position, cornerback. But last season he was switched to safety and thrived at the strong spot. He even played better at corner, where he started four games due to injury.

Williams tied for the team lead in interceptions, four, along with Byrd, safety Jim Leonhard and rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso, and was second to the latter on the team in tackles, despite missing two games.

This season, he’ll switch to the free spot, given Byrd’s inevitable exit as a free agent.

And the Bills can’t be blamed for that.

Oh, this franchise has had its moments both of unwillingness to spend the money to keep key players (think Will Wolford and Jason Peters) and bouts of foolish overspending (remember Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker?).

This time, though, Buffalo’s front office seems blameless.

It’s clear, Byrd’s agent, hard-balling Eugene Parker, wanted to maximize his client’s earning potential.

Last year, the Bills franchised Byrd and he responded by skipping training camp and preseason games. He then was inactive for the first five regular-season games before assuming his position.

There’s no reason to think Byrd, had the Bills chosen to franchise him, wouldn’t have done the same thing this season.

By all accounts, Buffalo’s offer of a new contract was more than fair ... making him one of the NFL’s top-paid safeties.

It wasn’t enough.

And while the Bills will have lost, arguably, their most talented player ... you don’t sense that the fan base is outraged.

The Buffalo faithful are famously dismissive of players who don’t want to be part of their team.

FINALLY, there’s the ticket price increase.

Still among the league’s most inexpensive buys, this season, the 10-game schedule (including two exhibitions) will sell from a minimum of $260 to a max of $750 for regular tickets with club seats ranging from $1,470 and $3,100.

It’s the first Bills season ticket price increase since 2010.

Last season Buffalo sold 42,540 season tickets, a shade over 30,000 below capacity.

But the most interesting revelation was the announcement of variable pricing for individual tickets. The precise plan hasn’t been revealed and probably won’t be until the schedule is released next month, but it will be affected by the attractiveness of the opponent and when in the season the game is played.

It’s a new concept for the NFL beginning this year  with the Lions and Patriots planning similar strategies.

Such a plan has been common in the National Hockey League, though, as the Sabres adopted it 10 years ago.

If you’re planning ahead, remember this season’s home schedule will be AFC East foes New England, Miami and the N.Y. Jets plus Green Bay, Minnesota, San Diego, Kansas City and Cleveland.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@wnyti.com)

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