Author Archives: John Kryk

1st-place Bills win again — this time with Clemson flash on offence, not the smash

BILLSORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Last week the Buffalo Bills offence won with slow-moving smash. This week, with fast-flying flash.

Clemson flash, to be specific. Courtesy of two former Clemson University Tigers: C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins (my pregame photos, accompanying).

That duo’s big plays, in combo with another strong defensive effort and a nightmare of a day for the Miami Dolphins special teams, led the surprising Buffalo Bills to an easy 29-10 win on Sunday at raucous Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills improved to 2-0 and sit alone in first place in the AFC East for the first time in three years. The Dolphins dropped to 1-1. The New York Jets and New England Patriots also are 1-1.

“We ran for almost 200 yards last week,” said Bills running back Fred Jackson, a plough horse in Buffalo’s 23-20 overtime win in Chicago. “Any team is going to focus on stopping that this week. When they do, we’ve got guys in our receiver corps who can make plays and have big games themselves.”

Well, one guy anyway: Watkins.

In his first regular-season home game, the fleet, sure-handed rookie lived up to his ballyhooed promise as the fourth overall draft pick in May.

Watkins caught eight passes from improving second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, for 117 yards and one touchdown — to become the first Bills first-year receiver since Lee Evans in 2004 to amass 100+ receiving yards in a game.

“He’s going to be a great talent in the NFL. That’s really it,” veteran Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan said of Watkins. “He had a good day. Kudos to him.”

Spiller had a quiet first half, as did the entire Bills rushing attack in taking a 9-0 lead into locker room. After Miami opened the third quarter with a field-goal drive, Spiller grabbed the ensuing kickoff two yards deep in his end zone — and was gone. Touchdown.

Why is Spiller returning kickoffs this season for the first time since 2010, his rookie year? Because the coaches asked him to. Duh.

And not a problem, Spiller said.

“I just had to get back into the groove of catching it, making great decisions and after that it’s pretty much just a matter of trusting your eyes. Just try to hit (the hole) a hundred miles per hour. I mean, there’s really no magic about (it).”

Three plays after Miami narrowed Buffalo’s lead to 16-10, Spiller showed off his top-grade speed and elusiveness again, bursting off left tackle and weaving 47 yards to the Miami 16.

Two plays later Manuel hit Watkins on a crosser, and as the rookie dived to the corner he slammed the ball down on the pylon for his first NFL touchdown — to the delight of 69,954 fans on a sunny but cool late-summer day.

“It was amazing,” Watkins said of the crowd’s reaction.

Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter, cut by the Dolphins a year ago, added his fourth and fifth field goals to round out the scoring.

Between his kickoff returns, rushes and catches, Spiller finished with 200 all-purpose yards, on 15 touches.

“I told C.J. before going out today, ‘You have an opportunity every time you touch the ball to change the game,’” Jackson said. “When he gets the ball in his hands, all you can do is hold your breath and see what happens.”

BILLSIn both Buffalo victories, Manuel has played smart, efficient football, if not often dynamic or quite accurate enough. But that’s all the Bills need him to be in this run-based attack, which also relies heavily on a stubborn, talented defence to tee them up with good field position.

Manuel was 16-of-26 for 202 yards and was not intercepted.

“He’s progressing well,” Bills head coach Doug Marrone said. “That’s two good games for him now.”

Tannehill, meantime, performed miserably for the third time in as many starts at the Ralph.

BILLSIf he and his head coach Joe Philbin are around next year for a fourth game here, they might want to try figuring out how to start faster. In his three first halves in Buffalo, Tannehill is a combined 22-of-39 (56%) for just 155 yards and no touchdowns, while being sacked eight times. And overall he has engineered just two touchdown drives.

“We just didn’t play well,” Tannehill said. “We didn’t get first downs, we didn’t rush the ball, we didn’t throw the ball, we didn’t catch the ball — we didn’t do anything well.”

Even worse than the offence were Miami’s special teams. Get this: two shanked punts, one blocked punt, the kickoff-return touchdown allowed and a muffed punt (lost to Buffalo) inside the 20.

Philbin had no explanation for all those less-than-special gaffes.

Before the game, most fans took their seats earlier than usual — to celebrate two things.

BILLSFirst, the legacy of founding club owner Ralph Wilson, who died in March after 55 years of proudly refusing ever to sell the club to pushy out-of-town buyers. Second, the fact the team will not be moving to Toronto or anywhere, after Terry and Kim Pegula agreed Tuesday to buy the team from the Wilson estate for $1.4 billion, pending NFL approval.

In honouring Wilson before the game, Bills Hall of Fame legend Jim Kelly — fresh off announcing he has defeated cranial cancer for the second time in a year — had to wait to speak. Fans refused to stop cheering for two minutes.

“I’ve seen this stadium rock a lot of times,” club president Russ Brandon said of Kelly’s ovation, “but I’ve never felt it like that today. It was awesome.” (That’s Brandon, above, with an emotional Mary Wilson, Ralph’s widow.)

The Bills try to improve to 3-0 next Sunday at the Ralph against the 1-1 San Diego Chargers.

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Gruesome elbow injury sidelines Dolphins’ Moreno

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Yes, running back Knowshon Moreno really can be a special player this season for the Dolphins, a Miami beat writer was saying just before kickoff on Sunday.

Then the scribe applied an ominous asterisk: “You know, as long as he can stay healthy.”

Well that did it.

Less than 11 minutes into Miami’s 29-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Moreno gruesomely dislocated his left elbow as he was being tackled. He put his left hand on the ground, and that arm bent backward at the elbow — um, the wrong way — when Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham fell on it.

Ayyyyyouch.

Moreno clutched his left arm while being helped to the locker room. He did not return.

Reports say he’ll miss four weeks.

The sixth-year player last year helped to make the Denver Broncos offence lethal, both as a runner and receiver. But in part because of his perennially bum left knee, the Broncos did not retain him.

Moreno signed with the Dolphins as a free agent in the spring, then underwent yet another round of arthroscopic surgery on the bum knee in early summer.

Moreno healed in time to play a pivotal role last week in Miami’s 33-20 upset of the New England Patriots, rushing for 134 yards.

“Obviously we would love to have him, but (injuries) pop up in football,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “So it didn’t really impact the game plan a whole lot.

“If a guy gets injured you can’t really totally alter things.”

They should have. Except on one third-quarter drive, the Miami offence was anaemic all day.

Exclusive: Bon Jovi and Toronto partners never promised to keep Bills in Buffalo beyond lease, and here’s exact wording of their submitted non-relocation ‘pledge’

Promises, promises.

In formal written submissions, rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his bid partners always stopped short of promising the Ralph Wilson trust they would not move the Buffalo Bills to Toronto.

So says a Sun Media source closely involved in the now completed sale process.

The source backed up that contention by revealing the group’s best attempt at a written non-relocation pledge, sent last month to Morgan Stanley, the trust’s investment bank that conducted the sale.

But first things first. Asked if the rocker ever signed a waiver pledging to keep the NFL team long-term in Western New York, the source said:

“Absolutely not. He did not sign any such document.

“At most, he would have only signed a pledge that he would not move the team until 2020 or 2023, when the lease terms are up. Never would he have signed something saying he wouldn’t move the team after the lease term.”

The Bills are in Year 2 of a virtually unbreakable 10-year lease of Ralph Wilson Stadium. There is an out in 2020 for $28.4 million.

While the Bills sale process ended Tuesday when Terry and Kim Pegula bought the club (pending league approval Oct. 8), the process swam in melodrama all summer long. Bon Jovi’s group kept canon-balling into the deep-end of it, always over the non-relocation issue.

Only when backed to the wall did the rocker and his high rollers — MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers, representing his family’s financial interests — provide even an insufficient promise to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

It happened in early August, days after the trio learned their non-binding offer for the Bills of $800 million to $900 million (that specific range) was deemed uncompetitive. Morgan Stanley allowed the trio to resubmit with a more lucrative offer. The caveat: also provide a more convincing written assurance they would not move the NFL team to Toronto.

In their resubmission dated Tuesday, Aug. 4, the three principals upped their non-binding offer range to $1.0 billion to $1.1 billion, and wrote the following as their non-relocation pledge, as passed along by the source:

 

“We remain committed to working collaboratively to finance and build a new stadium in the Buffalo area in order to develop a long-range stadium solution for the Buffalo fans and Buffalo community.

“After purchasing the team, we intend to work with the state, city, county, business community and the New Stadium Working Group to identify a site and develop a plan to finance and build a new stadium in Buffalo.”

 

The words are similar to what Bon Jovi had penned in a letter to Bills fans, published just two days earlier in the Buffalo News.

On cursory read, the above pledge might seem to suffice. But parse it out and you see the clever, subtly evasive language. When you go no further in a legal document than to state you are “committed” to doing something, or merely “intend” to “work” on doing something, you are deliberately leaving yourself ample room to wiggle out and never follow through.

The trust, Morgan Stanley and the trust’s law firm Proskauer Rose immediately deduced as much, and demanded a more clearly expressed long-term commitment to Buffalo.

The group did not provide one. Morgan Stanley threatened to not advance the group to the final phase, as Sun Media reported at the time. But because no other plausible bidder then had stepped forward to threaten the Pegulas (behind the scenes it was understood the NFL never would approve Donald Trump, the only other finalist), the trust on Aug. 9-10 weekend had little choice but to grudgingly move Bon Jovi’s group along.

The group never provided any further non-relocation assurance, the source said.

If Bon Jovi and his partners truly wanted to convince the trust and its legal team that their about-face was in earnest, they could have furthermore written, “We promise not to move the Bills from Western New York beyond the current lease,” or some such thing.

Many observers still wonder why the trio did not do just that: simply lie and communicate the words everyone in Western New York wanted to hear — needed to hear — in order to believe them.

After all, not doing so destroyed the trio’s chances of winning the bid, and probably would have done so even if the group had possessed the wherewithal to offer $1.5 billion. (As it was, the group submitted a binding bid on Monday of $1.05 billion.)

One source insisted the three men are too honourable to even consider such a dishonest business tactic. Another source described it as a case of pre-emptive legal butt-covering. That is, if their relocation bid had ever wound up in front of a judge, having used unequivocally false language to cloak their real intentions would not have gone over well.

So in the end the trio chose to “twist themselves into knots,” as one source put it, with their hedged pledge.

Such pretzel logic proved a tough swallow — for everyone. Even them.

Amid euphoria, Bills and Dolphins set to play their most meaningful game in years

Only one team could shatter the NFL record for highest franchise sale price and see that news buried in a week that produced some of the ugliest, most controversial league stories in years.

Right, the hard-luck Buffalo Bills.

It didn’t matter that with the sale of the Bills to local heroes who have vowed never to relocate the club, this was the feel-good story of the century in Western New York.

Which prompted grown men to weep unabashedly. Which easily is the greatest thing to happen to this club since reaching four straight Super Bowls a generation ago.

No, the rest of North American NFL fans were talking about commissioner Roger Goodell’s job security, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, the new drug-policy protocol — or even just who they’ll start at tight end this week on their fantasy team.

None of that will matter a smidgen to the jubilant sellout crowd on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, where the Bills open their home schedule against their AFC East rivals, the Miami Dolphins.

For the first time in years — aching, paranoia-drenched years — the threat of the Bills relocating to Toronto or anywhere else is gone.

Oil and natural-gas multi-billionaire Terry Pegula and his wife Kim bought the Bills on Tuesday for $1.4 billion, pending NFL approval on Oct. 8. That’s $300 million more than the previous record sale price for an NFL team, paid by Stephen Ross for the Dolphins in 2009.

How excited are Bills fans to celebrate the good news at Sunday’s home opener? The team announced Saturday morning that for the first time in “recorded history,” the camper/RV parking lot across from the stadium already had filled up the day before a game.

That founding Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who died in March, will be honoured before Sunday’s game not only won’t squelch the “we’re-here-to-stay!” celebration one bit, it will invigorate it.

Fans will loudly pay homage to the man who stubbornly, proudly kept the team in Buffalo for decades. If there were a Ralph Wilson Stadium decibels-level record, it’d be in jeopardy Sunday at about 12:55 p.m. EDT.

All of which leads to the game itself, which has its own importance. Even though it’s just Week 2, this is the most meaningful matchup between the Bills and Dolphins in years. Maybe since the ’90s.

Both playoff-starved teams are 1-0 after upset victories last Sunday — the Bills over the Bears in Chicago, the Dolphins over the visiting Patriots.

The view before the season was that both squads had shaky young quarterbacks playing for their NFL futures — behind even shakier, young, patchwork offensive lines.

But guess what? Third-year Miami passer Ryan Tannehill and second-year Bill EJ Manuel were solid, if unspectacular, last week. The supposedly now vaunted Patriots pash rush sacked Tannehill only once (although it pressured him plenty), and the Bears’ overhauled pass rush got to Manuel only once.

This week, both O-lines have more challenging tasks. The Bills and Dolphins possess two of the most formidable pass-rushing units in the league. Buffalo’s is led by all-pro defensive end Mario Williams, Miami’s by ex-CFLer Cameron Wake.

New Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey had little choice but to blow up his O-line after last season’s bullygate scandal and overall terrible play.

Only centre Mike Pouncey — also implicated in the scandal — is still on the club, and he’s been out since June with a torn labrum.

So here’s your new Dolphins OL, left to right: Branden Albert, Daryn Colledge, Samson Satele, Shelley Smith and Ja’Wuan James.

“People have made a lot of noise about the five new guys, but the fact of the matter is really we’re four guys who have played professional football for a while, who have a lot of starts between them,” Colledge said. “Ja’Wuan (a rookie) is the only guy out there who hasn’t played an NFL game. Really, we had a good camp together.”

Buffalo’s O-line starts a rookie, too: seventh-round draft pick Seantrel Henderson, at right tackle. He has a world of skill, but is he ready to handle Wake? Probably not.

Barring a barrage of turnovers, if either team scores 24 points it’d be almost as surprising as Jon Bon Jovi walking out to perform a halftime concert.

 

 

Manuel boldly inserts himself into Bills leadership role

When he entered the NFL last year, Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel said he prided himself on his leadership abilities as much as anything.

BILLSBut he mostly kept quiet in the Bills locker room as a rookie.

His teammates got their first palpable taste of how he can take charge, however, last Saturday — the day before Buffalo upset the Bears in Chicago last Sunday to open the season.

As offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was about to wrap up the last meeting of the week, Manuel interrupted.

They weren’t done. He had something to say.

The 24-year-old proceeded to give his mostly older offensive teammates a boisterous pep talk that rose confidence, spirits and focus.

This week Manuel didn’t “really want to go too much into it,” but acknowledged it was by design.

“(It wasn’t) like I’d been holding back last year or anything like that, it was just a matter of realizing, hey, I’m the quarterback. Maybe it is my job to get these guys ready to go.”

De facto team leader Fred Jackson, a 33-year-old running back, said Manuel “has those qualities. It wasn’t unexpected.”

Other players, though, were pleasantly taken aback.

“They were kind of almost shocked,” Manuel said. “I kind of play the cool demeanour all the time … But they could tell that it was genuine.”

Manuel completed enough clutch passes for the Bills to win, including a 20-yarder to Mike Williams in overtime that moved the Bills into Chicago territory and helped set up the winning field goal.

Special report on end of Bills sale: Source confirms Pegulas paid record $1.4B for the Bills, and examining the supposed Great Toronto Threat

While Torontonians can continue to shrug their shoulders, Buffalonians can finally exhale and rejoice.

Terry and Kim Pegula are the new owners of the Buffalo Bills, pending league approval.

And The Great Toronto Threat? It indeed proved benign, for reasons Sun Media has been reporting since April.

The trust of the late Ralph Wilson on Tuesday morning reached a tentative agreement to sell the NFL club to the Pegulas, as the Buffalo News first reported. The team confirmed the news by mid-afternoon.

And the couple smashed the previous record price for an NFL franchise purchase. A Sun Media source confirmed what Lauren Brill of Buffalo’s WIVB-TV first reported, that the couple paid $1.4 billion for the Bills.

“Kim and I are humbled and honoured that the Wilson family has chosen us as the second owner of the Bills,” Terry Pegula said in a statement.

“Ralph Wilson left an indelible mark on our community and we still strive each day to honour his legacy … Our interest in owning the Bills has everything to do with the people of Western New York and our passion for football.”

Kim Pegula, born in South Korea, was raised in Rochester, N.Y., by Canadian-born adoptive parents.

The long-beleaguered Toronto bid group, led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, was not informed until midday of the bad news. Ditto for the only other known bidder before Tuesday, celebrity real-estate mogul Donald Trump of Manhattan.

Two other bidders emerged by Monday’s binding-bids deadline, Kaplan reported.

Terry Pegula, an oil and gas multi-billionaire who owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and wife Kim had vowed to keep the locally beloved Bills in Western New York. They are spearheading a downtown Buffalo renaissance of sorts.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was first to confirm the deal in a mid-day news release, which read in part:

“From Day 1, keeping the Bills in Buffalo has been one of our administration’s top priorities … As the team’s new owners, the Pegulas will ensure that the Bills remain at the core of the region’s identity — just as the late Ralph Wilson Jr. did for 54 years.”

Wilson died on March 25 at age 95.

New York State Sen. Chuck Schumer also congratulated the Pegulas.

Wilson’s widow, Mary, said in a statement: “Ralph would have been pleased with the sale of the team to the Terry Pegula family, who has been so committed to Buffalo and the Western New York region.”

The Bills thus won’t be relocating to Canada’s most populous city, the prospect of which surprisingly few Torontonians seemed to give a buffalo’s butt about since the spring.

By contrast, that prospect shot up the collective blood pressure of Western New Yorkers by about 50 points over the past five-and-a-half months.

Here’s a deeper look into the sale, what’s next, and why the beleaguered Toronto group’s fate was sealed long ago:

 

1. WHO BID WHAT?

That the Pegulas won this estate auction within hours of Monday’s 5 p.m. EDT binding-bids deadline might lead one to think that many balls were rolling on the deal in advance.

Don’t be it on it, sources say.

So how did the Pegulas wind up paying so much — $1.4 billion — for one of the NFL’s least prestigious, lesser-profitable, but most fervently backed teams?

First, let’s look at what their two known rivals bid.

Sun Media reported on the weekend that the Toronto group would bid somewhere between $1.0 billion and $1.1 billion — in the precise range of the group’s resubmitted, non-binding bid more than a month ago. That it did, if at the low end.

Bon Jovi and his Toronto partners bid $1.0 billion, or $1.0 billion and change, sources said.

As for Trump, Sun Media learned Tuesday he had submitted a first-round, non-binding offer in late July of about $1 billion. Upon perusing the team’s financial books in August, however, Trump on Monday submitted a much lower binding, specific offer: $800 million.

So why did the Pegulas pay $1.4 billion so quickly — almost $400 million more than the Toronto group, $600 million more than Trump, and $300 million more than ever had been paid for an NFL franchise?

One of three reasons:

1.    The Pegulas asked the trust Monday night what number would end the sale process, were told “$1.4 billion,” and they said OK, sure. Bam.

2.    The trust told the Pegulas Monday night they could end the sale process on the spot by upping to $1.4 billion, and they said OK, sure. Bam.

3.    Or this. SportsBusiness Daily’s Daniel Kaplan reported that the investment bank conducting the sale for the trust, Morgan Stanley, indeed recruited two more bidders at the last moment. If one of them submitted a best offer of around $1.35 billion, the Pegulas quickly beat it to end the sale.

 

2. HOW IT BECOMES OFFICIAL

The NFL now must approve the sale. It’s a two-step process, and probably just formality. If there remained a trace of doubt, news of Tuesday’s tentative agreement would not have been released.

First, the league’s finance committee must review and approve both the Pegulas and their purchase agreement with the Wilson trust. Only then can the other 31 owners vote on approval.

The finance committee next meets Sept. 17, which Sun Media first reported. The quick sale wrapup gives ample time now for the committee’s review and approval to take place.

Owners next meet Oct. 8 in Manhattan. At least three-quarters of them (24) must approve any team sale. Team-sale approval votes are conducted only in person.

 

3. TORONTO GROUP’S GLUM DEMISE

The Toronto group’s defeat is no surprise if you’ve been reading our reports since late April, but especially since mid-summer.

The so-called Toronto group comprised rocker Jon Bon Jovi of New Jersey, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Rogers Communications Inc. deputy chairman Edward Rogers, the latter representing his family’s financial interests.

The past six weeks proved a slow crawl to the glum finish line for the group.

From late July (after first bids went in) right up until Monday, no one in the group professed any optimism they’d wind up getting the NFL team, according to multiple sources in the position to know.

The group’s management presentation meeting in Manhattan on Aug. 12 with all the sale principals (the trust, Bills officials, Morgan Stanley and the trust’s law firm Proskauer Rose) went so poorly, the trio cancelled a scheduled tour of Ralph Wilson Stadium a week later, something expected of all bidders.

They didn’t think there was any point, sources said.

“They’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” one source said. “The bid’s on life support.”

Sun Media reported Aug. 21 that Bon Jovi and his Toronto backers would take a step back and reassess whether even to continue in their pursuit of the NFL franchise.

A New York Post report on Aug. 29 claiming Bon Jovi had been kicked out of the group was false. After Labour Day weekend, the trio ultimately decided to proceed with a bid, although one source described the finish-line effort as “half-hearted.”

 

4. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TORONTO THREAT

It was surprising that the Wilson trust and the transaction team it hired were successful in keeping the Bon Jovi group around to the bitter end.

The trust’s mission surely was to keep The Great Toronto Threat alive, if only to help to drive up Pegula’s price had no other bidders emerged.

This was not lost on the Toronto group principals.

They knew, too, that for some local and state politicians and other principals involved in the sale, one cannot be regarded by the masses as a saviour if there’s nothing to save.

Think of how this whole sale might have played out differently had there been no Toronto bid group.

The Great Toronto Threat among fans had been its own captivating melodrama in the Buffalo region for years, but especially since late March, when Wilson died.

Locals would have been devastated had their 55-year-old symbol of cultural unity been relocated to Toronto,​ a 90-minute’s drive away. You cannot blame them for nervously over-analyzing every miniscule development in the sale process, as so many did.

Torontonians, by contrast, generally could not have cared less about the possibility of gaining an NFL team, even in recent weeks as the process ramped up. It was as surprising as it was disappointing, frankly, and casts legitimate questions moving forward as to whether Toronto can be regarded as a legit football city anymore, especially in light of the paltry crowds the CFL’s Argos now get.

Fact is, outside of a few Bon Jovi headlines, the Bills-sale story seldom punctured even mainstream sports coverage in Ontario, whereas in Buffalo the story topped TV and radio newscasts for months.

 

5. WHY TORONTO WAS CASH SHORT

That the Toronto group’s financial wherewithal proved insufficient with Bon Jovi in the lead is no surprise.

Sun Media raised that as a potential issue as early as last November, when reports of his partnership with Tanenbaum first leaked.

Sun Media reported in late July that the group could not ultimately bid as high as the $1.3 billion that Pegula at first was reported to have submitted in the first round of non-binding, indicative offers on July 29.

Whatever he might have bid in the first round, Pegula could afford to pay significantly more than the Bon Jovi group ever could, however constituted.

The Toronto group first offered an indicative range of precisely $800 million to $900 million on July 29, Sun Media has reported. Upon being informed by Morgan Stanley that that amount was uncompetitively low, the group resubmitted with a range of exactly $1.0 billion to $1.1 billion.

In allowing the Toronto group to rebid, the Wilson trust also wanted more definite assurances the group would not relocate the Bills to Toronto. After more unsuccessful back-and-forths regarding this non-relocation promise, the frustrated trust and its transaction team on Aug. 9-10 weekend finally advanced the group to the final phase.

A source told Sun Media weeks ago that the Toronto group’s ultimate bid limit would be, at most, just under $1.2 billion.

It’s not that the Toronto principals, combined, aren’t rich on paper. Together they are worth as much as $10 billion.

But Bon Jovi, by far the least rich of the trio, was the group’s prospective controlling owner, and that necessarily put the lowest ceiling on the group’s ability to bid.

To meet the 30% controlling-owner threshold the NFL demands, the native of New Jersey would have had to come up with, as an example, $300 million cash in a $1.2-billion sale, after maxing out the league’s $200-million financing limit.

Sources peg Bon Jovi’s net worth at more than $400 million, an amount appreciably higher than Forbes’ often-reported valuation of about $300 million. For NFL-sale purposes the musician had liquidity issues to boot.

What’s more, the league ideally prefers that a principal owner possess another $200 million of liquidity, to ensure future financial stability. In this sale, with either a new stadium or a massive upgrade to Ralph Wilson Stadium to pay for soon enough, another large outlay of cash is a virtual certainty. Bon Jovi would not have had anything approaching that kind of financial reserve.

Whereas the Pegulas sure do.

For months, sources have said — and insisted into this week — that Bon Jovi had zero interest in being anything but the lead bidder in this initiative, even though the bid group could have reconstituted itself at any time.

Bon Jovi long has had a burning desire to become an NFL principal owner. Even though it likely dawned on him by late spring that bidding for the Bills might well surpass his ability to meet the 30% threshold, sources said switching to a background investment stake in the bid never was an option for him.

By NFL rules, only the controlling owner of a team has any power or prestige, even if he or she has a smaller piece of the ownership pie than background investors. Tanenbaum and the Rogers family understood and accepted that this would be their role behind Bon Jovi.

Tanenbaum chairs the MLSE empire, whose sports properties include the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, NBA’s Toronto Raptors, MLS’s Toronto FC, AHL’s Toronto Marlies as well as the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs and Raptors play.

The Rogers family controls Canada’s largest telecom empire, as well as TV stations, radio stations, magazines and baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays plus the stadium they play in, the Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome).

Sources say Tanenbaum is worth nearly $2 billion, and the Rogers family more than $7 billion, although a complicated trust structure controls large outlays of the latter’s money.

The Rogers family had the liquidity to take their NFL group’s bid somewhat farther as controlling partner, but not as far as people think. Some $6.5 billion alone of the Rogers family’s wealth is tied up in company stock.

It is not believed Tanenbaum could have taken the bid much farther than Bon Jovi. Tanenbaum and the Rogers had roughly equal shares in the endeavour behind Bon Jovi, probably 35% apiece, sources say.

 

6. QUID PRO QUO

The Toronto trio’s formation in the first place seems odd, but the parties saw it as mutually beneficial.

Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers – his family’s point person in the bid and the deputy chairman of Rogers Communications Inc. — gave Bon Jovi not just all that supporting cash he needed to fill out his bid, but pro-sports franchise and stadium management experience.

In return, Bon Jovi gave their bid star power and, most importantly, someone who is friends with — and has earned the respect of — many of the NFL’s most important power brokers.

The theory was that Tanenbaum and Rogers would take Bon Jovi to the door, and Bon Jovi knew the password to get in.

Bon Jovi must have been convinced the Bills’ future lay in Toronto. Whether his high-level NFL connections nudged him in that direction might never be known. In any event, it proved a disastrous miscalculation.

 

7. THE RELOCATION ISSUE

Beyond finances, the next gargantuan problem facing the Toronto group was the spectre of relocation.

Almost immediately after Wilson’s death on March 25, speculation ramped up in Western New York as to whether the trust had been empowered by Wilson’s posthumous wishes to not sell to a relocation aggregation.

While no specific directive might have existed, in the end it didn’t need to be. The trust — comprising Wilson’s widow Mary, his niece and Bills senior executive Mary Owen, Bills CFO Jeff Littmann and another lawyer — clearly had no intention to sell the Bills to a buyer with even previously expressed relocation intentions. Period.

Wilson lived in the Detroit area but famously refused any offers over the decades to sell the Bills, or to relocate the team to a richer market — for which Buffalonians now will ever adore him.

When Wilson signed a deal with the late Ted Rogers — founder of the Rogers empire — to relocate one Bills home game per year to Toronto’s Rogers Centre, starting in 2008, many Bills fans feared it signaled the first step toward the franchise’s eventual move to North America’s third largest megalopolis.

The Bills-in-Toronto series ran until this past December and proved an utter flop everywhere but in the NFL team’s coffers. Ostensibly the series is set to resume next year, but behind the scenes no one believes that will happen.

The Rogers Centre might not even be able to accommodate an NFL field come 2018, once its lower-level stands are locked in place after a grass playing surface is installed for the Blue Jays.

Wilson and the NFL last year approved a new 10-year lease for the Bills to play games at the 41-year-old stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., which bears the founding owner’s name.

The lease’s partner legal document, the novel non-relocation agreement, makes it practically impossible to move the team through the 2022 season, except for a one-time out after the 2019 season for $28.4 million.

These legal documents furthermore prevent the team from being sold to a new owner “who, to the Bills’ knowledge, has an intention to relocate, transfer or otherwise move the team” before 2023.

When Sun Media wrote about that clause’s importance in late April, the top political executive in Erie County, Mark Poloncarz, dismissed the report. Others piled on.

A prominent sports-relocation expert based in the East, however, was the impetus for the story. And a source positioned close to sale process throughout promised at the time that that sale clause, and others in the lease — such as one that forbids the Bills owner from so much as holding a preliminary discussion about building a replacement stadium that would open before 2023 — would prove pivotal as the sale progressed.

Those sources proved exactly right.

The iron-clad lease and NRA scared away interested bidders from Los Angeles and perhaps elsewhere, multiple sources said.

It was in these lease matters that the trust, Morgan Stanley and famously persnickety law firm Proskauer Rose had issues with the Toronto group.

The lease and NRA empower Erie County or the State of New York, or both, to go to court to block the sale of the Bills to a relocation aggregation.

For more than a year, until some time in June, Bon Jovi and his only initial partner, Tanenbaum, had been operating under the plan to relocate the Bills to Toronto at first opportunity.

But by the end of June, they flipped course and began getting word out that they intended to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

In early July, Edward Rogers convinced his mother, three sisters and others in the trust that controls his family’s wealth to join up with Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum in their bid for the Bills.

Rogers himself had for some time — and also not quietly enough, it turns out — thoroughly investigated the possibility of bringing an NFL team to Toronto.

On the first weekend in August, Bon Jovi wrote a 340-word letter published in the Buffalo News that attempted once and for all to convince Bills fans that his bid group’s recent about-face was sincere. The letter was a PR disaster and failed epically.

In the end the Toronto bid group’s intentions along non-relocation lines were not “clean” from a sale standpoint, said a source close to negotiations.

And Sun Media reported Monday that one of two factors besides money that would have “great weight” in the Wilson trust’s decision in choosing a buyer was the ability to close quickly and cleanly.

Plenty of proof existed to prove the Toronto-group principals might not be sincere in their summertime spin-arama.

For instance last November, four months before Wilson died, MLSE CEO/president Tim Leiweke spoke on the record to the Toronto Star about his close friendship with Bon Jovi and their joint NFL goal.

“We talk weekly about his NFL ambitions,” Leiweke told the Star. “And so we’re actively engaged, but I think it’s still a work in progress.”

This Star story furthermore said the group’s plan would be to relocate the Bills to Toronto after Wilson’s death, and even anointed that group as the “leading contender” to buy the Bills.

Sources say members of the Wilson family at the time were as incredulous as they were indignant over the arrogance and timing of those public pronouncements, when their patriarch was known to be in frail health.

Wilson died four months later.

In July the Associated Press’ Buffalo sports correspondent, John Wawrow, first reported that the Toronto group had conducted a feasibility study on new stadium sites in Southern Ontario.

Sun Media followed up with a report saying that in fact the study was commissioned by Edward Rogers before the Bills’ current stadium lease was even signed, more than a year before Wilson’s death and more than a year before he teamed with Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum.

Meantime, a stadium designer hired last year by Tanenbaum and Bon Jovi told Sun Media in July that the duo entertained approaches into this year by Toronto-area land owners hoping to accommodate their new stadium, for which he’d drawn up plans.

One of the worst-kept secrets in Toronto has been that the Bon Jovi/Tanenbaum duo into this year had been eyeing stadium sites that included port lands, Downsview Airport and vacant property adjacent to Woodbine Racetrack in the northwest corner of Toronto proper, in Etobicoke.

Yet other bits of evidence about the Toronto group’s relocation intentions concerned the seller and transaction team. All told, these obstacles would prove “too big to overcome” for the trust, an informed source said.

Said a source: “There was too much smoke for there not to be fire.”

 

8. COULDN’T HAVE LAME-DUCK HELL

Furthermore, and most crucially of all, the short-term health of the Bills franchise under this Toronto group’s ownership, even if it was sincere in keeping the team long-term in Western New York, would have eroded.

Fans vowed to abandon the team in droves if the Toronto bid had won.

Sun Media had been writing emphatically since late April that it is inconceivable 24 of 31 other NFL owners would have approved an ownership group whose presence would have created such a dangerous, unhealthy franchise existence — lame-duck hell — for either five or, more likely, eight years.

On the weekend, sources confirmed that the NFL indeed had absolutely no intention of letting that ever happen.

 

* * *

So in the end, the Toronto group’s bid had little chance to get anywhere near the eyes of other NFL owners. For these reasons. As we’ve been writing about since April.

If you’re looking for a great party tonight, go to Buffalo. To bastardize a U2 lyric, just throw a rock in the air. You’re bound to hit one.

Two selection criteria beyond money, including certainty of NFL approval, mean highest bidder won’t necessarily get Bills

If you need a reason beyond his acres of cash why Terry Pegula has a significant edge over his rival bidders in the Buffalo Bills sale, consider this.

Sun Media has learned that the highest bidder is not necessarily going to get the team.

Binding, definitive offers in the NFL club’s sale were due Monday at 5 p.m. EDT. At least three came in.

Two critical factors beyond money — both long speculated as playing a role — indeed are among the Ralph Wilson trust’s expressed selection criteria. Sun Media has confirmed that “certainty of NFL approval” is one, and the ability to close the deal immediately is the other.

According to a source in the position to know, Morgan Stanley — the Wilson trust’s investment bank conducting the sale — in early July informed prospective bidders who’d signed a non-disclosure agreement that, in selecting finalists, the Wilson trust would place “great weight” on the above two factors.

Those factors remain critical in the selection of a winning bidder, according to two informed sources.

Unlike with his two known rival bidders — Donald Trump and Jon Bon Jovi’s Toronto group — neither factor is believed to be an issue for Pegula.

So even if Pegula played hardball on Monday and came in lower than either Trump or Bon Jovi’s group, or both, he probably would still win this estate auction, those sources said.

Probably this is why pessimism draped the Toronto group’s bid effort right up to Monday’s binding-bid submission.

Certainty of NFL approval always has been seen as Trump’s tallest obstacle. One informed source in recent days gauged The Donald’s chances of being approved by NFL owners at “almost zero.”

Trump enthusiastically helped to lead the arch-rival USFL’s anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in the 1980s, and longtooth NFL owners have not forgotten. Also, Trump is a highly outspoken political critic — on the weekend he again was questioning President Barack Obama’s citizenship, on Twitter — when the NFL despises the idea of any owner engaging in such controversial public discourse.

As for the Toronto group and NFL approval, in this regard it now is beside the point whether the group’s three principals — rocker Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers representing the Rogers family — are sincere in their newly adopted stance to keep the Bills in Buffalo (after abandoning in June their original aim to relocate the club to Toronto at first opportunity).

Bills fans en masse disbelieve the sincerity of that about-face, and would abandon the team by the thousands if the Bon Jovi group owned the team. This greatly concerns the NFL, sources say.

Because the Bills’ stadium lease and sister non-relocation agreement (NRA) effectively chain the team to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park until 2020 — and probably until 2023 if the new owner must build a new stadium somewhere else, as is the case with the Toronto group — it is highly unlikely that NFL owners would permit the franchise to erode in lame-duck purgatory for either five or eight years, as Sun Media has been asserting since April.

At least three-quarters of NFL owners, or 24, must approve any team sale.

The second expressed criterion — the ability to close fast — doesn’t just mean financially. That is, having cash already in hand, any debt financing already finalized (and the less debt financing the better) and the presence of no other financial red flags.

It also requires that no other stumbling blocks or delays exist.

The big strike against the Toronto group in this regard, again, is its continuing refusal to provide assurance to the trust that it would keep the club in Western New York long term.

This is vital because it again brings into play terms in the Bills’ lease and NRA. The last thing the trust wants is to be hauled into court by Erie County or the State of New York to block the sale. That would hardly constitute a fast closing.

A provision in the NRA empowers the state or county, or both, to seek immediate injunctive relief against the Bills if they attempt to sell the club to a new owner “who, to the Bills’ knowledge, has an intention to relocate, transfer or otherwise move the team” before 2023.

Principals of the Toronto group indeed possessed that intention before July, and members of the Bills apparently had such knowledge. That’s why a definitive, clearly expressed desire by the Toronto group to keep the Bills in Buffalo long-term was crucial.

Yet another thing in Pegula’s favour compared to the Toronto group is the fact that the controlling partner in 14 of the past 15 NFL franchise purchases was wealthy enough to alone buy the team, even if some purchasers had syndicate partners.

All these factors probably come into play only if Pegula — a cash flush oil-and-gas multi-billionaire who owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres — got outbid Monday by either Trump or Bon Jovi’s syndicate, or both, and then refuses to trump them.

In that event, given these other criteria, the trust would have little choice but to take Pegula’s best offer, the two sources said. His would be the cleanest bid.

Sun Media reported Sunday night that Bon Jovi’s group likely would bid in the price range it had indicated in its resubmitted first, non-binding bid, known to be precisely $1.0 billion to $1.1 billion.

Reports Monday said there might have been one or two other bids submitted by the deadline, echoing what one source in a Sun Media story Sunday night said might happen. Other sources, though, doubted it.​

The trust now can select a preferred bidder at any time.