Author Archives: John Kryk

Where things stand with the Toronto group bidding on the Buffalo Bills: answers to 5 vital questions, via sources

ALBANY and CORTLAND, N.Y. — Just days before prospective Buffalo Bills owners must submit their first, non-binding bids, conflicting information abounds.

It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s deliberate misinformation.

Most of it centres on the Toronto bid group of rocker Jon Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family.

Last Saturday I reported that the group intends to inform the trust overseeing the sale of the NFL team that it is committed to keeping the NFL franchise in Western New York.

That’s a complete 180 from what had been the case: that the group, if successful, absolutely intended to relocate the team to Toronto at first opportunity.

And such opportunity would not come until 2020 or 2023, because of the team’s restrict lease and non-relocation agreement (NRA) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Those legal agreements would prevent any prospective Toronto-bound team from so much as discussing construction of a new stadium before 2020.

Five vital questions are being asked repeatedly about the Toronto group. Near as I can tell from sifted information provided by a wide range of sources on both sides of the border, here’s what I can share in an attempt to answer these questions:

 

1. ARE THEY LYING?

No one but the principals in the trio know for sure. Anyone else who claims to know is guessing or presuming or lying.

Almost nobody in Western New York — or Toronto, for that matter — believes that the Toronto group is in earnest in its intention to keep the club in Buffalo. Who can blame them?

Every instinctive fibre in your being screams at you that they must want to relocate to Toronto. It’s a Toronto group! Nothing else makes sense.

Multiple informed sources close to the sale process on both sides of the Niagara River strongly doubt the group’s sincerity. Most even laugh when the subject is first broached.

That said, some sources believe if the Toronto group wins the bid for the Bills, a tsunami of momentum might all but compel the three parties to put their money where their mouths are and commit to a new long-term stadium deal long before 2020, either at a further modernized Ralph Wilson Stadium, or wherever all sides eventually agree to build a replacement.

The thinking by these folks is that for five years the Toronto trio could not possibly just keep putting off the county and the state — and all those dyed-in-their-winter-wool Bills fans.

Conversely, there are informed sources who insist it would be easy to do just that. That five years would go by fast. Very fast. And if deception is the trio’s intention, then their game plan would surely go like this:

Continually call meetings with Erie County and the State of New York to talk about a new stadium. Do it often, do it enthusiastically. And dismiss all ideas of applying another coat of lipstick to the Ralph again. New stadium only, please.

But never agree to anything. Ever. Say that you like this plan or that plan and that, geez, we’re close — but always send them back to do more research. Before you know it, the five (or eight) years are up.

The major problem with that scenario, as we have been writing emphatically since late April, is that everyone by then will have long since sussed out what’s going on.

The majority of Bills fans already believe they have.

Understand that Western New Yorkers are acutely following every miniscule development in this sale saga. They’ve scaled the hilltops far and wide, heads tilted up, with nostrils wide open as they scan the winds for so much as the faintest whiff of relocation intention on the part of the Toronto group.

Such as what they smelled yesterday.

 

2. DID THE TORONTO TRIO REALLY COMMISSION A TORONTO-STADIUM FEASIBIILTY STUDY?

Not quite.

Thursday’s big news out of Buffalo came from a friend and colleague on this beat whom I admire and greatly respect: John Wawrow, the Buffalo sports correspondent for the Associated Press. His scoop stated the Toronto trio “conducted a feasibility study into buying the NFL franchise and building a stadium in Toronto.”

AP also reported that the study identified two Toronto sites: one on the waterfront, and the other not in Toronto but, rather, in adjacent Mississauga.

The story furthermore quoted the Toronto group’s stadium consultant, Andy Bergmann of Toronto-based Wessex Capital Partners, denying he has conducted any feasibility study about any potential stadium site on either side of the border.

The most important information was this: that the feasibility study “was commissioned 18 months ago.”

Here’s what I know.

The study was commissioned by Edward Rogers, alone, sources say. Not Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum, whose goal to buy an NFL team together dates back at least two years, I was surprised to learn.

The Rogers family — led by Edward Rogers III, deputy chairman of his family’s Canadian telecom empire — joined Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum in their Bills bid group only a couple of weeks ago, after deciding not to go it alone in a second Toronto bid group.

Two sources say that about a year-and-a-half ago, perhaps as long as two years ago, Edward Rogers privately commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of the NFL in Toronto, and of potential new stadium sites.

Why? Because several years ago, sources say, the belief was that the Rogers Centre — Toronto’s waterfront domed stadium previously known as SkyDome — could merely be upgraded to serve as a future NFL team’s home. Apparently the NFL dissuaded Rogers honchos of this idea.

Ergo the feasibility study. Rogers commissioned it months before the Bills’ current 10-year lease extension and NRA were even ratified by the NFL in March 2013, and at least a year before founding Bills owner Ralph Wilson died in March.

And, as stated, Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum had nothing to do with it.

In an interview late Thursday night, Bergmann confirmed that Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum hired him as their stadium consultant “about two years ago.”

Bergmann designed “very generic” stadium options for them, not specific to any site. In addition he said he merely provided “costs and impacts of size, roofs, and urban or rural sites.”

Furthermore, Bergmann claimed Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum have never pro-actively looked at any sites in Ontario. Rather, they only considered sites brought to them, once word got out they had a stadium design in mind.

“We are aware of many sites in Western New York and Southern Ontario that people think would be suitable,” Bergmann said, “and we know what those all are. But we have done nothing to date to look in any kind of detail how any site might impact our stadium design.”

Bergmann said the last time that he, Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum considered or discussed an Ontario site was about two months ago.

In other words, about a month before the group did the 180 and decided that, in order to buy the Bills, they could not relocate it. (Cynics all say together: “At least not right away.”)

Since then, the group’s stadium focus changed solely to Western New York, Bergmann said.

To that end, next week Bergmann said he is meeting with two Buffalo-area developers about potential stadium sites there.

Not once, Bergmann said, has the Toronto group commissioned a feasibility study about any stadium.

“I don’t know where any of this came from, claiming we’ve done feasibility studies. We haven’t done any. I don’t understand why some of that stuff came out.”

Many Bills fans celebrated Thursday’s news break.

Because the lease and NRA prevent the Bills from knowingly selling to a group with expressed relocation intentions, many have inferred from AP’s report that the feasibility study would qualify as an expressed relocation intention and, thus, disqualify the group from bidding.

Not so.

I wrote about this very clause in late April, saying it could derail a relocation aggregation’s plans. Some who then derided that report now contend the clause is crucial. (Better late than never.)

Except in this case, Rogers’ old feasibility study does not qualify as a breach of that clause.

Rest assured the Toronto trio will tell the trust that, indeed, relocation had been their shared intention (or unshared, in Rogers’ case) until recently. So of course they looked nominally into a new stadium. But they’ll swear those plans now are boxed, locked and shelved, as it’s not their intention anymore.

And remember, no one in the group has said word one publicly about the Bills sale, let alone about whether they’d move the franchise.

Nothing has changed.

 

3. DO THEY HAVE THE MONEY?

In breaking the news last Friday that the Toronto trio have roughly equal one-third investment stakes in their bid, I reported that Bon Jovi “is worth much more than has been reported or is believed by financial experts, and similarly is more cash flush than people realize.”

Two other sources have backed that up.

One claims Bon Jovi’s net worth instead of being $300 million, as Forbes reported last year, actually is closer to $500 million, And that Tanenbaum is worth considerably more than the $1.2 billion attributed to him last fall by Canadian Business magazine; he’s worth closer to $2 billion, the source says.

What’s more, the Rogers family finances are even more complicated than we reported last week. Edward, his three sisters and mother do not alone control their reported $7.6-billion fortune. Instead a trust oversees it, which includes Toronto business people. Sizeable chunks of cash outlays must be approved by that trust. Which might well be why Edward could not bid alone.

So, the big question: Does the trio have the money to win the bid?

Yes, sources say, up to and probably a bit over a $1-billion sale price.

But at some point soon thereafter, especially if the sale price approaches $1.5 billion, they’ll be out.

 

4. HOW MUCH WILL THEY BID?

Indicative (first, non-binding) bids are due on Tuesday at 5 p.m. EDT. Expect all bidders to submit just minutes before that deadline.

Last week I reported that groups are expected to lowball their first bids, probably in the $800-million to $900-million range.

Word is the Toronto group could go as high as $1 billion next week.

Then presumably by the end of next week, the trust — as advised by investment bank Morgan Stanley — will select a small group of finalists, who they’ll meet individually in formal management presentations between Aug. 4 and 15.

After more financial revelations by both sides, finalists will submit binding, final bids. By late September, or perhaps sooner, there likely will be a presumptive new Bills owner, awaiting approval by 24 of the NFL’s other 31 owners at the fall owners meeting in Detroit, Oct. 6-8.

 

5. DO THEY HAVE ANY HOPE OF WINNING?

Depends who you ask. Here’s what I have gleaned:

*    If the price goes sky-high? No.

*    If Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula or some surprise, cash-flush multi-billionaire keeps slamming down wads of cash from his jacket pocket until no one else can call, then no.

*    If the trust has written instructions, or merely the sentimental wish, to honour Wilson’s legacy and sell the team only to a bidder with local ties and no suspected relocation intentions (notions that many grizzled financial insiders totally roll their eyes at, I’m told), then no.

*    If the NFL actually gives a rat’s ass about its reputation and the short-term health of all 32 clubs, then no. Because, as I’ve been saying since April, to sell the Bills to a group with strongly suspected relocation intentions would be to turn that Orchard Park stadium into a ghost town on game days during those last five (or eight), long, ugly years of lame-duck existence in Buffalo.

*    If the trust doesn’t really care whether the team stays or goes and only wants to maximize the sale price, and if the NFL doesn’t care about said short-term lame-duck hell in Buffalo (because the NFL actually wants the team to relocate to Toronto, the thinking goes by some insiders), and if none of Pegula, Donald Trump or Western New York billionaire Tom Golisano is prepared to go much over $1 billion, and if Bon Jovi really wants to pour virtually all of his liquid net worth (and maybe liquidize other parts) into an illiquid sports team, then yes. And only then. And with no guarantee the NFL ever will approve a relocation early next decade.

 

 

 

TRAINING CAMPS NOTEBOOK: Why EJ can throw harder, Sammy’s special, Dareus arrives, Jennings was the Raider of the lost sleep, Gronk cleared to practise and much more

BILLSBILLS

– (My photos, accompanying: Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins, above) –

 

FOXBORO, Mass. — When you’re driving up I-95 from New York City to Boston on a scorching summer afternoon, traffic and construction can provide you with a whole lot of time to think.

In my case on Wednesday, time to think about unused news nuggets, quotes and sticking observations from the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants training camp openers, which I attended earlier in the week.

Here are some, along with other news, as I await the New England Patriots’ first training-camp practice on Thursday morning:

 

Why EJ’s throwing a snappier ball

It’s no secret that second-year Bills QB EJ Manuel added more muscle in the off-season.

Including in his right throwing arm. And he also refined his throwing mechanics. So he told me on Sunday night.

BILLSSecond-year WR Robert Woods told me it’s noticeable.

“For sure, his footwork and arm strength is better,” Woods said. “He’s pressing the ball in there. He’s getting some nice touches on the ball. They’re coming in a little bit harder because he’s more comfortable in the pocket.”

Meaning?

“You can tell. His feet are not as antsy in the pocket. He’s comfortable and poised back there.”

A few minutes later, Manuel said it’s true.

“Yeah, definitely. I did a lot of weight training. And I worked with (quarterback coach) Steve Calhoun. He’s out in LA. He was helping me with my footwork and my delivery.

“I’m glad to hear Woody is saying he’s feeling the pop on the ball a lot better … But it’s not really the delivery. It’s more just improved footwork — having your hips aligned (that is, aimed at the target). You don’t want to over-stride with your front foot either, and your back foot is what you want to push off.

“All those things help you to stay accurate, and give you more power.”

But just as big a factor in his perceived velocity increase, Manuel said, is that his timing is more refined. That is, he’s pulling the trigger earlier.

“I know where to go with the ball now, and I’m more consistent with it.”

 

Sammy’s the real deal

BILLSThat would be Sammy Watkins, the wide receiver for whom Bills GM Doug Whaley traded up to pick fourth overall in the draft.

Watkins is stunningly good — as advertised. In three years of attending Bills camps, he’s the only player I’ve tried not to miss whenever he’s on the field.

Because with Sammy, miss a few minutes and you can miss another scintillating feat of athleticism.

On Monday, for instance, Manuel’s pass to him over the middle was deflected high into the air. It seemed half the Bills defence swarmed Watkins as they all waited for the ball to drop from the sky.

Watkins out-leaped them all and nabbed it, amid all those swatting arms. And he was still clutching it after those DBs punish-crunched him and laid him out.

Then on Wednesday morning, WGR’s Sal Capaccio posted a video clip (check his TL at @SalSports) of Watkins running a fake-out-and-in route in the end zone. The rookie slipped on the cut but instantly sprung to his feet, stuck out his right arm and — just as the ball was whistling by — snared it with one hand.

Yeah.

BILLS

 

Dareus arrives

BILLSTroubled Bills DT Marcell Dareus walked onto the St. John Fisher College practice field on Wednesday morning with his teammates, but not in football gear. He’s trying to get into shape in gym gear. There’s still no timetable on his return to the field, head coach Doug Marrone said. Through the team, Dareus released a statement that read in part: “After dealing with a personal matter in Alabama, I am excited to return to training camp to rejoin my teammates … Right now, my focus is on earning the trust of my teammates, coaches and the fans while continuing to improve as a football player … There are things I need to work on professionally and personally to make sure I can be accountable to myself, my family, this team and this community. My focus will remain on achieving that goal one day at a time.”

 

O-line experimenting

As Marrone and his offensive coaches try to determine the best starting O-line, they’re already juggling bodies. A big reason is LT Cordy Glenn hasn’t been available to practise since before June mini-camp ended. He’s out with an undisclosed illness, but now is working out on the sidelines with out-of-shape DTs Dareus and Alan Branch. Chris Hairston, who missed all of last season due to injury, worked at LT with the first team on Sunday night but was terrible; fleet pass rusher Jerry Hughes blew around him far too many times. Hairston, who is huge-bodied and a bit bow-legged (think of a stove on a tripod with one leg knocked out), was tried at RG on Monday. On Wednesday Marrone said Erik Pears is playing well, as he’s healthier than last year, and hinted Pears might lock down the RT spot over second-round draft pick Cyrus Kouandjio.

 

Extra Bills points

BILLSIn an interview, Marrone said he has had no subsequent health alarms since having a cancerous mole removed in the spring: “They took it out, it’s not a problem, I’m using sun screen, and everything’s fine” … Fleet but fragile slot WR Marquise Goodwin (photo accompanying, No. 88) turned CB Leodis McKelvin into a revolving door on Sunday night, selling the out route right off the line before breaking on a dew drop and running a slant, leaving McKelvin far behind and facing the wrong way … Third-year LB Nigel Bradham seems to have convinced the coaches he means to earn more playing time. Marrone is talking him up … Marrone said star defensive end Mario Williams is “the happiest I’ve seen him.” Of course Marrone wasn’t there the day Williams signed his $100-million contract … The Bills like to run the hurry-up. The Bills also like a heavy O-line. Are the two things mutually compatible? “We’re about to find out,” Whaley quipped.

 

Speaking of Giant O-lines …

Here was New York’s first-team offensive line at the start of camp: LT Charles Brown (free agent from New Orleans), LG Geoff Schwartz (free agent from Kansas City), C J.D. Walton (free agent from Washington), RG Brandon Mosley (2011 Giants draft pick) and RT Justin Pugh (2013 Giants draft pick). If you missed it, banged-up C Chris Snee finally retired on Monday. Injuries and inexperience ravaged the Giants O-line last year.

 

GIANTS

Raider of the lost sleep

RB Rashad Jennings (No. 23, above) played for the Oakland Raiders last year. The Virginia native signed as a free agent with the Giants in the off-season. The best part about returning to the East Coast? “I’m closer to the family,” he said Tuesday. “Now my Mom when she calls me every morning, she’s not waking me up at 4. So it works.”

 

Running start this year

GIANTSThe Giants couldn’t find a healthy, able RB to play for most of last season — certainly not an effective one, especially at catching passes. This season they not only have Jennings but David Wilson (photo accompanying), who last season suffered what was thought could be a career-killing neck injury. Wilson got cleared by doctors on Monday and he ran around Tuesday like a 10-year-old off the bus after the last day of school. Now Wilson just has to keep remembering: hang … on … to .. the … ball.

 

Extra Giants points

GIANTSS Antrel Rolle said this might be the most talented of the five Giants teams he has been on. The second one won Super Bowl XLVI … There’s a much more urgent pace to the proceedings at Giants camp this year, compared to my 2012 and 2013 visits. Much more hurry-up offence, too … Four receivers took a stab at returning punts: Trindon Holliday, Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and rookie Odell Beckham Jr. (photo accompanying) … It was strange to see former Cleveland Browns star RB Peyton Hillis waiting, and waiting, to get token reps with the scrubs.

 

Gronk cleared to return

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to practise, head coach Bill Belichick announced Wednesday.

Gronk has been almost continually injured for the past two years. He missed the start of last season, after multiple surgeries on his back and on a problematic broken arm. Soon after he returned he blew out an ACL against Cleveland.

DE Rob Ninkovich summed up the locker room’s feelings:

“Gronk is Gronk. ‘Yo soy fiesta,’ right? Again, I think he’s a tremendous player. Personality wise, he’s one of the best guys you could ever meet. He’s a great guy off the field. He’ll say hi to anybody; he’ll do anything for you.

“I’m happy to see his progress and see him coming into the season and staying healthy. Obviously, that’s what everybody is talking about.”

 

 

GIANTS CAMP Q-and-A: Eli Manning talks about moving on from last year’s Giant debacle in a new attack

GIANTS

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Even during his two Super Bowl championship seasons, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning actually took some heat for his emotionless, machine-like play.

Last season, he was merely an interception machine.

GIANTSIn the Giants’ miserable 0-6 start, Manning tossed 15 picks. Without his Super resume, and with an actual functioning backup passer, the Giants might have benched him. He was that bad at times.

Manning and the team bounced back to play somewhat better down the stretch, although Manning did throw 12 more picks as the Giants won seven of their last 10 games.

Still, it was their second straight year since winning Super Bowl XLVI that the Giants missed the post-season. That’s unacceptable here in Giants country, where expectations always are super high.

Manning is now 33, entering his 11th NFL season. Time flies, huh?

In a Q&A with Sun Media before Tuesday’s first practice of training camp, Manning touched a bit on last season, finger-pointing some things he did wrong. He also said he’s healthy and ready to go after having had late-winter surgery to correct a high ankle sprain above his left foot.

And he explained why having to digest the entirely different attack of new offensive coordinator (and former Green Bay Packers QBs coach) Ben McAdoo might be the best thing for him and his teammates, after having run only one system (of now retired Kevin Gilbride) for his first 10 NFL seasons.  My photos, accompanying.

 

Is McAdoo’s new offence providing you with sort of a fresh restart to your career?

“Yeah, I think so, just because you’re so focused on learning the plays, trying to get a rhythm with this offence — a great understanding of it. So the focus has just been totally on the fundamentals of it. The footwork, the terminology, the reads, listening to your feet to let you go through the progressions of the offence … I think we’ll be much better off this upcoming season.”

 

GIANTSCan you provide a simple description of McAdoo’s attack?
“I don’t know if there’s a perfect label. Hopefully ‘efficient.’ We’ll be able to run the ball and get the ball out quickly (on throws).” (At left, that’s my photo of McAdoo, left, with new QBs coach Danny Langsdorf and Manning.)

 

More shorter dropbacks than you’re used to, then?

“Well, it’s just that you have options to get the ball out quicker. We’re still going to push the ball down the field, and you’re not just throwing short stuff. It’s just making quick decisions and hopefully some good play-action puts the ball down the field. But mostly just more efficient — finding more completions and getting the ball into our playmakers’ hands and letting them make the big plays.”

 

 

You have a mostly new offensive line. How is it coming together?

“We have some new guys, but they are also veteran guys. They’ve played in the NFL, they’ve got some game experience. So that’s good. And we’re all learning this offence together. So it’s not like some people have a great feel for it and some don’t. They’re working well together as a group. They’re getting it taught to them the same way. I’m communicating with them. We’re getting on the same page. There is a lot of talking, of us understanding the calls. Or us making up calls for certain things. That’s all good stuff because the more we can communicate, and go over it more and see everything, it’s going to make us better, stronger and more prepared.”

 

Did you do a lot of self-analysis of your play last season, or did you just throw the tapes in the garbage and move on?

“Yeah, I think you had to look at it to learn from your mistakes, and try to find a common trend of what some of the problems were.”

 

Which were?

“I think just footwork, and sometimes if I was getting pressure early, not trusting my timing and not always stepping into every throw. So I just have to get back to trusting everything that’s going on, anticipate that I don’t always have all the time to make my reads, and just pick a small target and hit that target.”

 

And your ankle is fine?
“Yeah, everything’s feeling good. I feel healthy. It’s been a good start to the spring, and hopefully we can build on that momentum going into training camp.”

- – -

 

GIANTS

Rookie Beckham pulls up again in 1st Giants practice

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In May practices, Odell Beckham Jr. flashed some of the athleticism that compelled the New York Giants to draft him 12th overall in May.

Since then, however, the rookie wide receiver hasn’t been able to do much.

Before Tuesday’s opening practice of training camp at the team’s practice facility adjacent to MetLife Stadium, the LSU product told the press he hoped that the nagging hamstring he suffered late in the spring was behind him now.

Unfortunately, no.

Halfway through practice on a glorious mid-summer day, the 21-year-old pulled up short on a fly pattern from Eli Manning, which allowed cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to easily intercept. (my photos, accompanying)

GIANTSBeckham slowly jogged off, and then appeared to try to stretch out his right hamstring for a while. He returned to action briefly but sat out the final 11-on-11s.

Immediately after practice, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said he did not yet know the status of the 5-foot-11, 198-pound flyer.

“He stopped on the ball, I know that much,” Coughlin gruffed.

“He’s got some work to do. We’d seen enough in the spring to know what he can do. I hope to see it again soon.”

In an interview with Sun Media before practice, Manning said that when Beckham finally is healthy, he’ll add much-needed playmaking ability to the Giants’ attack, even though Beckham doesn’t even crack the six-foot barrier.

“Speed can make you a lot taller than what you seem,” Manning said. “He can really run and jump and make those great catches. In the NFL, for receivers it’s all about, Can you get open, and can you make plays?

“And he’s proven that. We’ve seen it out here. He can get separation from the cornerbacks, and he can also get up and make plays when there is tight coverage.”

 

Jaworski explains why he thinks his close friend Bon Jovi ‘would do the right thing’ and keep the Bills in Buffalo

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski reiterated Monday why he thinks his good friend, rocker Jon Bon Jovi, would keep the Bills in Buffalo should his bid group succeed in purchasing the team.

Bon Jovi possesses the prospective controlling share in a roughly equal-thirds group that also includes MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family, both of Toronto.

Sun Media reported Saturday that the group intends to inform the trust selling the NFL club it would keep the team in Western New York, if successful.

That was a change in direction from the spring when, when sources in the position to know told Sun Media the group intended to move the club to Toronto at first opportunity, which would not come until either 2020 or 2023, because of the Bills’ restrictive lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Bon Jovi has never said publicly anything about buying the Bills, let alone whether he’d move the team.

“I know for a fact Jon never said he was going to move the team to Toronto,” Jaworski said in an interview at St. John Fisher College, before the Bills’ afternoon practice. “I think there was much speculation because people tried to read the tea leaves and said he’s talking to guys from Toronto, so he must be trying to move the team to Toronto.

“I think I know Jon very well and I always think Jon would do the right thing. And I think for the people of Western New York, the right thing is to keep the Buffalo Bills in Western New York – no matter who the ownership group is.”

“Jaws” said he is aware that a lot of people in Western New York — and Toronto – aren’t buying that for a second.

“My gut tells me Jon would keep the team in Western New York,” Jaworski reiterated.

He and Bon Jovi from 2004-08 were among the original owners of the Arena Football League’s franchise in Philadelphia, the Soul. The two hit it off and remain close friends.

“Jon has a tremendous passion for football,” Jaworski said during a short break outside his ESPN remote set, adjacent to the Bills’ grass practice field. “We were business partners as owners of the Philadelphia Soul, and he wanted to learn everything. I mean, everything.

“He sat in on all the coaching interviews, all the executive interviews. He wanted to learn. He would come to practice. He had been a big NFL fan before he became a Soul owner. But he wanted to learn about football.

“And he would always say to me, ‘This is my warm-up league. I eventually want to be an NFL owner.’”

Bon Jovi looked at “a number of opportunities” in recent years to buy into NFL teams, Jaworski said. But sources have told Sun Media the frontman for the rock band that bears his surname is now only interested in being a controlling owner.

Sun Media quoted a source Friday saying that Bon Jovi is indeed worth more than the $300 million Forbes has reported. Another source confirms it but wonders — as many insiders do — whether he could liquidize enough assets to assume the minimum 30% ownership stake, especially if the price soars much past $1 billion, as expected.

NFL owners such as Jerry Jones and John Mara said at the spring owners meeting that Bon Jovi’s reputation as a businessman is stellar and well-earned. Jaworski said that’s because it’s true.

“He’s a brilliant businessman. I mean, he’s really sharp. And not just with our arena team but with his band. He was hands-on with everything. That’s how Jon operates. That’s why he’s successful.

“He does not let anything get out of his control. He wants to know about everything that’s going on … He’s such a fierce competitor that wants to win, too.”

Jaworski said he has not spoken with Bon Jovi in “a few weeks” because of the strict non-disclosure agreement all prospective Bills bidders had to sign. So Jaworski couldn’t exactly say how Bon Jovi is reacting to the avalanche of fan outrage now attached to his name in Western New York, with bars and even radio stations boycotting his band’s music — so certain are Buffalonians that he and his Toronto business partners would move the team to Toronto, sooner than later.

“He’s a pretty thick-skinned guy,” Jaworski said. “I think at the end of the day, he’d probably win all those people back.”

 

 

Bills’ Toronto player: keep team in Buffalo

BILLSPITTSFORD, N.Y. — Maybe it wasn’t fair to put the Buffalo Bills’ one Toronto-raised player on the spot like that, but we did.

Stefan Charles, what are your thoughts on all the off-season speculation about the Bills maybe moving to Toronto?

“You know, that’s not my job,” the second-year defensive tackle said, wisely. “I’m just focused on what I gotta do here, which is to try to get us as many wins as possible. All that other stuff is for the front office.”

Charles was born and raised in east-end Toronto – Scarborough, to be specific — before moving to Oshawa to finish up high school. He still has a ton of family and close friends there.

Pressed a bit more, Charles said they should keep the Bills right where they are, and explained why.

“It’s a short drive (for his family to get to Buffalo),” he said. “I like it here so I don’t see why the Bills would want to leave here … The fans are great, the city’s great.

“I love playing in Ralph Wilson Stadium. It’s unreal, like no other that experience. It’s special man, it’s real special.”

 

Troubled Marcell Dareus fails conditioning tests and is ‘close’ to joining team — but his problems, sadly, are much deeper than that

BILLS

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Troubled Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is “close” to being in good enough condition to join his teammates on the field.

So said GM Doug Whaley in an interview Sunday night, as the Bills kicked off the NFL’s first 2014 training camp practice at St. John Fisher College.

“Yes, he’s close,” Whaley said. “It’s not like he’s going to be out for an extended period of time.”

You might be thinking of Dareus, What a zero. What an idiot. Just another spoiled-child pro athlete who  doesn’t get it, and is carelessly and stupidly frittering it all away.

Well, there’s so much more to it than that. And that is not to say the Bills aren’t immensely disappointed in him.

Just before Sunday’s practice began, a sombre Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced the reason Dareus on Saturday was placed on the active/non-football-injury list is because he didn’t pass all his pre-camp conditioning tests.

“Obviously you want your players to come in ready to go,” Marrone said. “We’re here for a long period of time so we’ll make up for it … He’ll be in shape, ready to play.”

Despite the brave, supportive faces Whaley and Marrone are projecting, you’d think they must be close to their ropes’ end with Dareus. And perhaps they are.

But the belief here is that Whaley, Marrone and the Bills truly care about the fragile mental state of this immensely talented 24-year-old interior D-lineman, no matter how much he has frustrated them this offseason with his stupid decisions.

After his two behind-the-wheel run-ins with the law in May, you’d think Dareus would have cleaned up his off-season act in the four weeks since the end of spring workouts and practices.

But no.

Perhaps all the absolutely heart-wrenching personal tragedies in Dareus’ life finally have caught up with him.

And what tragedies.

His dad died when he was six. His grandmother who raised him died when he was 13. His high school football coach and father figure, whom he lived with at the time, died when Dareus was 13. His wheelchair-confined mother died when he was 20. And two Septembers ago his only younger brother was shot and killed over $40.

Early last December, Dareus told me in Toronto — two nights before the last Bills-in-Toronto game against Atlanta — that he was in a better place, emotionally and physically.

“I want to be drama free,” he said. “I feel so much better.”

Almost immediately since then, however, his life has gone off the rails.

In two subsequent December 2013 games Dareus was benched briefly, for tardiness during the previous week.

By May, his recklessness spilled onto the roadways.

His first incident with the law occurred in Cleburne County of Alabama, when he was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance (reportedly synthetic marijuana) and possession of drug paraphernalia after being pulled over for speeding.

In the second incident, in a Buffalo suburb near the Bills’ Orchard Park home, Dareus crashed his Jaguar into a tree after allegedly street-racing teammate Jerry Hughes.

Dareus was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment, reckless driving, engaging in an illegal speed contest, leaving the scene of an accident, speeding, making an unsafe lane change and yet other traffic violations.

Contrast all that behaviour in the span of a month to what Dareus told me in December 2012, in his first in-depth interview about how his brother’s death three months earlier had affected him.

“I didn’t leave my house for months. I just got to the point where I’m able to leave it now,” he said at a promo stop with other Bills players in downtown Toronto, five days before the game against Seattle at the Rogers Centre.

“For the things to go the way they went, it just hit me in a whole other way. I’ve been looking over my shoulder, and it just got me spooked.”

Spooked about what?

“Just scared that something might happen. The plane could go down. A car wreck. It’s just made me afraid to do anything.”

Seventeen months later, he had lost all of that fear. While drag-racing his Jaguar like that he was fortunate not to kill himself, or someone else.

As for his physical condition, Dareus is listed at 331 pounds. But he appeared heaver than that in mid-June, during mandatory mini-camp (that’s my photo of him at the time, below). Whaley confirmed that observation.

BILLS“He was a little overweight (in the spring), but it wasn’t to the extent that we were concerned. He’s one of those guys that even when he’s big, he’s still athletic and moves around well. He’s a better player at the optimum weight (we set for him).”

In my interview with him last December, Dareus claimed he was in his best shape as a pro.

“In the off-season you normally pick up weight.” he said. “I lost weight. This season I’m about 10 pounds lighter than I was last year. And I put on more muscle. I can run harder, I can run longer.”

He seemed so proud about it, too.

Clearly, Dareus didn’t work out anywhere near as much this past off-season.

Both Whaley, in my interview, and Marrone in his Sunday news conference, hinted at Dareus’ inability now to focus on his job while away from his teammates, and away from the disciplined structure a football team provides.

“I did talk to him,” Whaley said. “He seems like he’s got his head on straight. But, you know, we’ll just see how it goes.

“Obviously you know the issues, so I’m sure that deals with him, mentally, and he wasn’t focused. And we feel getting him here and around his teammates, where the setting is just football, is going to be great for him.”

In explaining why Dareus isn’t in shape, Marrone was asked if he has talked to the 24-year-old about his conduct.

“Sure, we have conversations about that, but those conversations are between Marcell and I,” Marrone said.

“I just think right now he needs to focus on getting himself ready, getting in shape, getting on the field and focusing on football.”

Whaley said the team stand by Dareus.

“We’re confident that with him working with our strength and conditioning staff, and that we have an extra week in training camp, that he’ll come into shape.”

Ninth-year Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams told AP’s John Wawrow in June that he hoped those May run-ins with the law would be “kind of a watershed moment” for Dareus, “because he’s at a pivotal point … I think he’s heard (advice) from a lot of different levels, whether it be from his teammates or coaches, and I’m sure the front office. So if you can’t get it from those three levels, maybe you’re not going to get it.”

It appears Dareus still isn’t getting it. Four weeks later, here is out of shape and not practising.

Football fans and writers alike have been praising the heavens this weekend that football season finally is here. But not for the reasons Dareus might be.

Here’s hoping the young man gets it together. Before it’s too late. And I’m not just referring to his pro football career.