2014 NFL training camps preview: key roster changes and a compelling question for all 32 teams

Trestman

The third weekend in July is here. You know what that means, NFL fans.

Training camps are opening. At last!

The Buffalo Bills kick it all off this year, with players having reported to St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., by Saturday — in time for Sunday night’s inaugural practice.

All other NFL teams open camp by Monday, July 27, when the Detroit Lions are last to get going.

For a refresher on how each team’s roster changed this past off-season — who’s in, who’s out — and a compelling camp question for each, read on:

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 12-4, AFC runner-up

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: CBs Darrelle Revis & Brandon Browner, WR Brandon LaFell

KEY DRAFT PICKS: DE Dominique Easley, C Bryan Stork, QB Jimmy Garoppolo

KEY LOSSES: CB Aqib Talib, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Can Revis & butthead (perennially drug-suspended Browner) form the lockdown duo at corner that the Patriots so desperately need to get past Denver?

 

NEW YORK JETS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: QB Michael Vick, RB Chris Johnson, WR Eric Decker, OT Breno Giacomini

KEY DRAFT PICKS: S Calvin Pryor, TE Jace Amaro, WRs Jalen Saunders & Shaquelle Evans

KEY LOSSES: CB Antonio Cromartie, OT Austin Howard, QB Mark Sanchez

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: How in the world can 2nd-year QB Geno Smith hold off Vick, in THAT environment?

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: OT Branden Albert, G Shelley Smith, RB Knowshon Moreno, CB Cortland Finnegan

KEY DRAFT PICKS: OT Ja’Wuan James, WR Jarvis Landry, OT Billy Turner

KEY LOSSES: DT Paul Soliai and virtually entire OL that began 2013.

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Can QB Ryan Tannehill improve as he must in Year 3 behind a revamped OL, and under a new coordinator?

 

BUFFALO BILLS

FIRST PRACTICE: Sunday, July 20

LAST SEASON: 6-10, no playoffs.

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: MLB Brandon Spikes, LB Keith Rivers, CB/S Corey Graham, WR Mike Williams

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WR Sammy Watkins, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, LB Preston Brown

KEY LOSSES: LB Kiko Alonso (knee), S Jairus Byrd (FA), WR Stevie Johnson

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Team’s success hinges on 2nd-year QB EJ Manuel’s improvement, but is he up to the task — and can he stay healthy?

 

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI BENGALS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 11-5, North champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: S Danieal Manning,

KEY DRAFT PICKS: CB Darqueze Dennard, DE Will Clarke, QB A.J. McCarron

KEY LOSSES: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: How in the hell can QB Andy Dalton not be still rattled by that putrid playoff performance against San Diego?

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: S Mike Mitchell, RB LeGarrette Blount

KEY DRAFT PICKS: LB Ryan Shazier, DE Stephon Tuitt, WR Martavis Bryant

KEY LOSSES: WRs Emmanuel Sanders & Jerricho Cotchery, OLB LaMarr Woodley

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Underrated in New England, can Blount team with 2nd-year RB Le’Veon Bell to finally take some pressure off Big Ben, the passing attack and the OL?

 

BALTIMORE RAVENS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: WR Steve Smith, G/C Jeremy Zuttah, TE Owen Daniels

KEY DRAFT PICKS: LB C.J. Mosley, DT Timmy Jernigan

KEY LOSSES: DT Arthur Jones

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Does Smith still have enough left in the tank to become QB Joe Flacco’s go-to-guy in Gary Kubiak’s new offence?

 

CLEVELAND BROWNS

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 4-12, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: S Donte Whitner, LB Karlos Dansby, RB Ben Tate, TE Jim Dray

KEY DRAFT PICKS: QB Johnny Manziel, CB Justin Gilbert, G Joel Bitonio

KEY LOSSES: WR Josh Gordon (he’s appealing year-long drug susp.), T.J. Ward, LB D’Qwell Jackson, G Shaun Lauvao

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is Johnny Football mature enough and skilled enough to beat out fragile-kneed Bryan Hoyer as starting QB?

 

 

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 11-5, South champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: WR Hakeem Nicks, DT Arthur Jones, LB D’Qwell Jackson

KEY DRAFT PICKS: G Jack Mewhort, WR Donte Moncrief

KEY LOSSES: S Antoine Bethea, WR LaVon Brazill (drug susp., season)

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: You know QB Andrew Luck will continue his ascent to supremacy, but can Nicks, Moncrief and a healthy Reggie Wayne make the Colts offence lethal?

 

TENNESSEE TITANS

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 7-9, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DE Shaun Phillips, LB Wesley Woodyard, WR Dexter McCluster

KEY DRAFT PICKS: RB Bishop Sankey, OT Taylor Lewan, QB Zach Mettenberger

KEY LOSSES: CB Alterraun Verner, RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is this summer the last chance for injury-prone, slow-developing QB Jake Locker to keep his locker in Nashville?

 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 4-12, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DE Chris Clemons, DE Red Bryant, G Zane Beadles

KEY DRAFT PICKS: QB Blake Bortles, WR Marqise Lee, WR Allen Robinson

KEY LOSSES: RB Maurice Jones-Drew

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is Bortles, the No. 3 overall draft pick, ready to beat out Chad Henne and start at QB?

 

HOUSTON TEXANS

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 2-14, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick,

KEY DRAFT PICKS: DE Jadeveon Clowney, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, NT Louis Nix, QB Tom Savage, LB Akeem Dent

KEY LOSSES: RB Ben Tate, TE Owen Daniels, DE Antonio Smith, S Danieal Manning

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is disgruntled veteran WR Andre Johnson prepared to suck it up and be the dependable big-time playmaker he’s been for years, or is he done in Houston?

 

 

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER BRONCOS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 13-3, AFC champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: OLB DeMarcus Ware, CB Aqib Talib, S T.J. Ward, WR Emmanuel Sanders

KEY DRAFT PICKS: CB Bradley Roby, WR Cody Latimer

KEY LOSSES: WR Eric Decker, RB Knowshon Moreno, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Shaun Phillips, LB Wesley Woodyard, G Zane Beadles, CB Champ Bailey

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: We know how good the offence is, but can the upgraded defence become as scary-good?

 

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 11-5, wild card

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DT Vance Walker

KEY DRAFT PICKS: DE Dee Ford, RB De’Anthony Thomas, QB Aaron Murray

KEY LOSSES: WR Dexter McCluster, OT Branden Albert, Gs Jon Asamoah & Geoff Schwartz, DT Tyson Jackson

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: How can QB Alex Smith have another solid if unspectacular season behind an OL so gutted and unreplenished — and without McCluster?

 

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 9-7, wild card

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: None

KEY DRAFT PICKS: CB Jason Verrett, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, G Chris Watt

KEY LOSSES: CB Derek Cox

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: It’s great that every defensive starter returns, but how will QB Phil Rivers take to his third offensive coordinator in three years, Frank Reich?

 

OAKLAND RAIDERS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 4-12, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: QB Matt Schaub, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR James Jones, OLB LaMarr Woodley, OTs Donald Penn and Austin Howard, DE Justin Tuck, DE Antonio Smith, CBs Carlos Rogers & Tarell Brown

KEY DRAFT PICKS: LB Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr, G Gabe Jackson

KEY LOSSES: DE Lamarr Houston, OT Jared Veldheer, QB Terrelle Pryor, DT Vance Walker

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Arguably no other team turned over its roster to this extent — for the better or yet worse?

 

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 10-6, East champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: RB Darren Sproles, S Malcolm Jenkins, QB Mark Sanchez

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WRs Jordan Matthews & Josh Huff, LB Marcus Smith

KEY LOSSES: WRs DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, QB Michael Vick

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: It’s entirely the Nick Foles show now. He runs Chip Kelly’s offence. But can the rookie WRs and Sproles combine to replace Jackson’s receiving productivity?

 

DALLAS COWBOYS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DT Henry Melton, LB Rolando McClain

KEY DRAFT PICKS: G Zack Martin, DE Demarcus Lawrence, LB Anthony Hitchens

KEY LOSSES: OLB DeMarcus Ware, DT Jason Hatcher, LB Sean Lee (injury)

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is 34-year-old Tony Romo’s back healthy enough to hold up? Better be. Brandon Weeden looks like the backup now that Jerry has dumped Kyle Orton.

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

FIRST PRACTICE: Tuesday, July 22

LAST SEASON: 7-9, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Walter Thurmond, RB Rashad Jennings, G Geoff Schwartz

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WR Odell Beckham, C Weston Richburg, RB Andre Williams

KEY LOSSES: WR Hakeem Nicks, DT Linval Joseph, DE Justin Tuck, TE Brandon Myers

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Never mind whether he can still be elite. Can QB Eli Manning be anything but an unsure interception machine anymore? Giants’ chances for success start and end with that.

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 3-13, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: WRs DeSean Jackson & Andre Roberts, DT Jason Hatcher, G Shaun Lauvao, LB Adam Heyward

KEY DRAFT PICKS: LB Trent Murphy, OT Morgan Moses, G Spencer Long

KEY LOSSES: DB Tanard Jackson (indef. drug susp.)

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Jay Gruden, Jon’s younger brother and Andy Dalton’s mentor in Cinci, takes over as head coach. Can he get out of RG3 what Kyle Shanahan did in 2012?

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 8-7-1, North champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DE Julius Peppers

KEY DRAFT PICKS: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, WR Davante Adams, TE Richard Rodgers

KEY LOSSES: WR James Jones, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, and perhaps TE Jermichael Finley (depending on neck status, and if he re-signs)

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Who exactly is Aaron Rodgers supposed to be throwing to this year again?

 

CHICAGO BEARS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 8-8, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DEs Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston & Willie Young, C Brian De La Puente, QB Jimmy Clausen

KEY DRAFT PICKS: DB Kyle Fuller, DTs Ego Ferguson & Will Sutton

KEY LOSSES: QB Josh McCown, DEs Julius Peppers & Corey Wootton, DT Henry Melton

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Can a drastically overhauled DL return the Bears defence to greatness?

 

DETROIT LIONS

FIRST PRACTICE: Monday, July 27

LAST SEASON: 7-9, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: WR Golden Tate, DE Darryl Tapp

KEY DRAFT PICKS: TE Eric Ebron, C Travis Swanson, LB Kyle Van Noy

KEY LOSSES: DE Willie Young, S Louis Delmas

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Are Ebron and Tate the vital missing pieces who can take the focus off Megatron and allow QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions offence to dominate?

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 5-10-1, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: CB Captain Munnerlyn, DT Linval Joseph, DE Corey Wootton, CB Derek Cox

KEY DRAFT PICKS: QB Teddy Bridgewater, LB Anthony Barr, DE Scott Crichton

KEY LOSSES: DE Jared Allen, CB Chris Cook

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Can Bridgewater unseat vet QB Matt Cassel straight out of the gate?

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 12-4, South champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: Ss Thomas DeCoud & Roman Harper, WRs Jerricho Cotchery & Jason Avant

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WR Kelvin Benjamin, DE Kony Ealy, G Trai Turner

KEY LOSSES: WRs Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr., OT Jonathan Gross (ret.), CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Mike Mitchell

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Offence starts almost completely over at OL and WR. Can QB Cam Newton shine?

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 11-5, wild card

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: S Jairus Byrd, C Jonathan Goodwin, CB Champ Bailey

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WR Brandin Cooks, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, LB Khairi Fortt

KEY LOSSES: RB Darren Sproles, C Brian De La Puente, Ss Malcolm Jenkins & Roman Harper, WR Lance Moore

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is Saints offence setting up to become more run-dependant (as it was in the playoff win at Philly)?

 

ATLANTA FALCONS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 4-12, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: DT Tyson Jackson, DT Paul Soliai, G Jon Asamoah, QB T.J. Yates

KEY DRAFT PICKS: OT Jake Matthews, DE Ra’Shede Hageman, RB Devonta Freeman

KEY LOSSES: S Thomas DeCoud, LB Akeem Dent

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Are the better, nastier OL and DL acquired in the off-season enough to return the Falcons to the upper echelon of the NFC?

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 4-12, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: QB Josh McCown, DE Michael Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, TE Brandon Myers, DT Clinton McDonald, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, OT Anthony Collins

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WR Mike Evans, TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, G Kadeem Edwards

KEY LOSSES: CB Darrelle Revis, OT Donald Penn, G/C Jeremy Zuttah, LB Adam Heyward

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Was it wise for new head coach Lovie Smith to bench QB Mike Glennon, coming off a promising rookie season, and replace him with old ex-Bear Josh McCown?

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 13-3, Super Bowl champs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: QB Terrelle Pryor

KEY DRAFT PICKS: WR Paul Richardson, OT Justin Britt, WR Kevin Norwood

KEY LOSSES: WR Golden Tate, DT Clinton McDonald, DE Chris Clemons, CB Walter Thurmond, DE Red Bryant, OT Breno Giacomini

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Can the young Seahawks defence still be great after so much depth, maturity and talent departed?

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

FIRST PRACTICE: Thursday, July 24

LAST SEASON: 12-4, NFC runner-up

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: S Antoine Bethea, WR Stevie Johnson, CB Chris Cook, QB Blaine Gabbert

KEY DRAFT PICKS: S Jimmie Ward, RB Carlos Hyde, C Marcus Martin

KEY LOSSES: S Donte Whitner, C Jonathan Goodwin, CBs Carlos Rogers & Tarell Brown

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Is the new secondary an improvement? The Niners took a considerable risk in starting over at that vital level.

 

ARIZONA CARDINALS

FIRST PRACTICE: Saturday, July 26

LAST SEASON: 10-6, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: OT Jared Veldheer, CB Antonio Cromartie, WR/KR Ted Ginn Jr.

KEY DRAFT PICKS: DB Deone Bucannon, TE Troy Niklas, WR John Brown

KEY LOSSES: LB Daryl Washington (drug susp., season), LB Karlos Dansby, WR Andre Roberts

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: Still the same: receiving weapons for QB Carson Palmer abound, but can his OL give him time enough to throw?

 

ST. LOUIS RAMS

FIRST PRACTICE: Friday, July 25

LAST SEASON: 7-9, no playoffs

KEY VETERAN PICKUPS: WR Kenny Britt

KEY DRAFT PICKS: OT Greg Robinson, DT Aaron Donald, S Lamarcus Joyner

KEY LOSSES: CB Cortland Finnegan, G Shelley Smith

COMPELLING CAMP QUESTION: GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have gone all in with QB Sam Bradford. What do they know that we don’t?

Bills’ foes will have to weather a forces-of-nature running attack in 2014

The Buffalo Bills now have so many forces of nature at running back, the weather channel is jealous.

For four years the Bills already had “Thunder and Lightning” — better known as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

This off-season they added a tornado from the plains — Kansas native Bryce Brown — and a potential hurricane from gulf-coast Mississippi, Anthony Dixon.

BILLSArguably no NFL team has so deep or so dangerous a crew of ball carriers. And so, behind an offensive line that might wind up as the NFL’s beefiest, and in an offensive attack aimed to protect a second-year quarterback (EJ Manuel) as he tries to prove his NFL worthiness, you can expect the Bills to run it in 2014.

And run it, and run it, and run it some more.

“You just got to keep on giving those guys the ball,” Bills offensive coordinator Nathan Hackett said during the team’s mandatory minicamp. “They all want the ball, and that’s what you want as an offensive coordinator. You want guys that are hungry for it and want the ball every single second.”

The Bills are the first NFL team to open training camp. Their first practice is Sunday night at St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester, N.Y. Every other NFL team begins practising by Monday, July 27.

All eyes at Bills camp will be on Manuel, as he attempts to justify his first-round selection of a year ago. He had a typically up-and-down rookie season for a quarterback: at times looking completely lost, barely able to complete a pass; at others doing enough to win, even in Bills losses; but mostly bleh.

BILLSBut Manuel suffered three minor knee injuries that kept him out of two preseason games and six in the regular season. His rookie grade? Incomplete.

Conversely, the Bills rushing attack deserved at least a B+.

Last season it ranked among the most prolific in the league, averaging 144.2 yards per game, behind only Philadelphia’s 160.4. Spiller (with 930) and Jackson (with 890) became only the second tandem in team history to each surpass the 800-yard mark.

What’s more, the Bills ran it by far more than any other team in 2013 — 546 times, more than Seattle (509), San Francisco (505) and Philly (500).

In the spring the Bills traded for Brown, a dangerous backup to LeSean (Shady) McCoy in Philly. In the first of his five starts as an Eagle, the explosive six-foot, 220-pounder from Wichita broke the club’s single-game rookie rushing record, with 178 yards against Carolina. In his third season he’s still only 23.

Dixon signed as a free agent in March, after spending his first four seasons in San Francisco. He’s an impressive pounder — at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds — but behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James he didn’t play much as a Niner, except on special teams. He has the frame to win snaps at fullback.

Bills GM Doug Whaley in May said the club acquired Brown and Dixon for a few reasons: as insurance against injury to either Spiller or Jackson; because both of those runners are set to become free agents next March; and to push all of them to improve.

“I can’t sum up what the backfield is,” Whaley said, “but I will sum up with one of our philosophies as a team, and that is competition brings out the best in everybody. We want competition. We don’t want people coming in and saying, ‘Here is my spot and I’m safe.’”

As much as we all like to slot running backs as being only this type or that (see above), Bills running back coach Tyrone Wheatley said such labels just don’t apply to this foursome.

“Take Bryce Brown. He’s multiple,” Wheatley said last month in an interview during mandatory minicamp. “He can fit in anywhere. Wherever he is comfortable — that’s where he fits in.

“He can be a third-down back too. He has nice, soft hands. And he can block.”

BILLSThe knock on Brown last season in Philly was he bounced it out too many times when the situation called for him to just put his head down and drive.

That’s what afflicted Spiller at times in 2013, too. He’s so explosive and speedy a player, the allure of reaching the corner undermined his effectiveness at times early on.

But down the stretch, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Spiller quietly played some of the best football of his career. In December the 26-year-old amassed 426 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry.

“In those last five games, he was running between the tackles better than he ever has as a pro,” Wheatley said (my minicamp photo, accompanying). “He ran hard.

“I mean, at New England in the last game, he split two defenders on just a great run, because he said to himself at that moment, ‘You know what? I’m not going around them, I’m splitting them.’ It was a goosebumps moment for me.

“That guy, he is ultra-competitive.”

Which leads to the old man of the group, Jackson.

The 33-year-old, eighth-year player from Forth Worth, Texas, was the Bills’ most valuable performer on offence last season. Time and again when the team needed a crucial short-yardage run for a first down, or a critical pass block, or a drive-sustaining gain on a dumpoff, the 6-foot-1, 216-pounder came through.

“Undeniable — that’s the best word to describe the man,” Wheatley said. “You talk about a guy you don’t want to lose.

“He’s a great athlete. Better than people realize. And cerebral. He might have lost a step or two, but he sees things faster now. And he knows how to make guys miss.”

With such a talented backfield, how in the world do the Bills offensive coaches distribute the rock over the likely 500+ carries again in 2014?

Simple.

“Who’s the hot guy?” Wheatley said. “That’s who.”

Toronto bid group now vowing to keep Bills in Buffalo: sources

The idea of the “Toronto Bills” is just about dead.

Especially if you believe Jon Bon Jovi, Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family.

Sun Media has been reliably informed by multiple sources that the sole Toronto group bidding on the NFL team is now telling people, and will tell the trust overseeing the sale of the Buffalo Bills, that it is committed to keeping the NFL franchise in Western New York.

It’s just a matter of whether the trustees, NFL owners and Western New Yorkers believe them. If Bills message boards are any indication since Friday, the latter sure ain’t happenin’.

On Friday we reported that the Toronto-based Rogers family has joined Bon Jovi (frontman for his namesake rock band) and Tanenbaum (chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment) in their owernship pursuit of the Bills, and that each has about a one-third financial stake. Bon Jovi is the principal prospective owner.

In April, Sun Media was first to report with certainty after Ralph Wilson’s death that Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum (a) had firm plans to bid on the Bills, and (b) that their intention was to relocate the team to Toronto at the earliest opportunity.

But part (b) came into question on June 30. That’s when former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski told Buffalo media that Bon Jovi — his good friend and former business partner — not only has no plans to relocate the Bills from Buffalo, but that he never has.

The comment spoke volumes.

Later that day I surmised in a column that the Toronto group apparently had begun “to get out the message that it will not — repeat, not — relocate the team from Western New York.”

A source now says that that conclusion was correct.

For the record, neither Bon Jovi nor Tanenbaum has ever said word-one publicly about buying the Bills, let alone about relocating the club. Ditto Edward Rogers III, deputy chairman of his family’s Canadian telecom empire.

Why the about-face last month? Several reasons.

First, the Bills’ restrictive lease and novel non-relocation agreement (NRA) with Erie County and the state of New York to play at county-owned Ralph Wilson Stadium virtually precludes relocation before a one-time, $28.4-million opt-out in 2020. Otherwise, through 2022.

The Toronto group likely accepts that the various lease hurdles are insurmountable before next decade. Even if the Toronto trio were to fight the lease in court and win, a $400-million penalty would trigger at that point, per the stadium agreements. Know that the trio does NOT have an extra 400-mil lying around.

And perhaps they accepted what we’ve been asserting since April, that a new Bills owner with known relocation intentions would necessarily subject the franchise to either five or eight seasons of lame-duck status in Buffalo – a scenario that 24 of 31 NFL owners almost certainly would not have approved in an ownership vote.

Even if successful in buying the team, “there’s nothing that says the NFL will ever give you the right to move it, irrespective of whatever the lease says,” a sports franchise relocation expert told Sun Media.

In all, just too many high hurdles.

All of which is why that same expert, in April, said that if a group covets the Bills for the sole purpose of eventually moving it to Toronto, “then I would suggest never saying that publicly. There will be some legal challenges if you are talking about it publicly.”

Advice heeded?

The biggest problem for Bon Jovi, Tanenbaum and now the Rogers family is that if they are in dead earnest about keeping the Bills in Western New York, as it appears they are, then who in Western New York is going to believe them now?

That might be their biggest hurdle of all.

Regardless, the Toronto Bills are dead. Long live the Argos.

 

Source provides more specifics on what’s next in the Buffalo Bills sale process

Here are more details on what’s next in the Buffalo Bills sale process.

According to a well-placed source, prospective bidders not only have until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 29 to inform investment bank Morgan Stanley of their intention to bid, they must submit an indicative bid by then.

That is, a prospective, non-binding first bid. The source said Morgan Stanley will even accept a narrow price range, rather than a specific indicative bid.

Morgan Stanley is conducting the sale on behalf of the trust of the late Ralph Wilson, founding owner of the Bills who died in March.

The source said indicative bids are not expected to exceed $1 billion, perhaps not even $900 million. That of course does not mean the final sale price won’t wind up north of a billion, as widely expected.

Buyers probably will wait as long as possible before submitting their first bids, the source said. Maybe right up to the final hour on July 29.

After that date, on the advice of Morgan Stanley, the trust will quickly select finalists. Presumably by the end of that week.

All prospective bidders already have been asked to submit dates on which they are available in the following two weeks (Aug. 4-8 and Aug. 11-15). That is when each finalist bidder will visit with Morgan Stanley for a “management presentation” — a business term for when the seller meets a prospective purchaser in person, where each side typically mines the other for more information.

In this time period, finalist bidders will be granted more access to the club’s finances and, in turn, will be expected to quickly provide detailed information about their finances and their bid.

And as we have previously reported, there is nothing to prevent the trust from altering the sale process as it sees fit, and at any time. Once the trust identifies a preferred bidder, the process can wrap up quickly — even within a week.

The source said the intention of the trust indeed is to choose a buyer in time for ratification by NFL owners at their next scheduled meeting, Oct. 6-8 in Detroit.

 

 

 

Rogers family joins Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum in equal-stakes bid to buy Bills

The Rogers family has joined the Toronto group bidding on the Buffalo Bills, and has about a one-third financial stake in the enterprise, Sun Media learned on Friday.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum are the other partners, each with about one-third stakes as well, according to well-placed sources.

But the clear understanding in the group, as has been the case from the get-go, and which was made clear to Edward Rogers III months ago as he began to mull whether to join, is that Bon Jovi is the prospective controlling owner of this group.

There are no equal partnerships in NFL-team ownership, by league rules. One person must be anointed as controlling or principal owner, even if financial stakes are equal or thereabouts — so long as that person meets the 30% principal-ownership financial threshold.

Edward Rogers is the deputy chairman of Rogers Communications Inc., the Canadian telecommunications, media and sports empire founded by his late father, Ted Rogers. His family was worth $7.6 billion last fall, according to Canadian Business magazine.

Sources say the Rogers family, and not Edward alone, is listed as investor on the intention-to-bid document sent this week to the trust overseeing the sale of the Bills.

John Wawrow, the Buffalo sports correspondent for the Associated Press, was first to break the news Friday that the Rogers family had joined the Toronto group.

While Edward Rogers contemplated whether to invest with Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum, he had investigated whether to lead a second Toronto bid group.

As Sun Media first reported on June 30, Rogers ultimately was not in a position to be able to bid alone, and also decided against even leading a second Toronto syndicate. But he remained undecided well into this month about joining Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum’s group.

Informed speculation among sources is that Rogers needed the backing of his mother, Loretta, and at least one of his three sisters, Melinda, to be able to proceed.

A Rogers company publicist on Friday afternoon said Edward Rogers declined to comment.

That sources say the Toronto triumvirate has more or less equal financial stakes in the bid is intriguing.

Especially after one source informed Sun Media this week that Bon Jovi, in particular, is worth much more than has been reported or is believed by financial experts, and similarly is more cash flush than people realize.

Such business acumen is in part why, the source said, Bon Jovi has earned so much respect from so many NFL owners.

Bills-sale media reports, including Sun Media’s, since April have cited a single Forbes report last year that pegged Bon Jovi’s net worth to be around $300 million. A Canadian Business magazine report last fall claimed Tanenbaum was worth $1.19 billion.

Although throughout the spring it was believed the duo would recruit multiple minority investors to financially fill out their bid, the source this week said the two men were prepared to bid alone, whether Rogers joined or not.

Whether true, or whether they were bluffing in a billion-dollar poker game merely to get Rogers and family in as a needed third investor, can only be speculated.

Other league-connected sources told Sun Media this week they doubted that Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum together, without either Rogers or other supporting investors, could have come up with the money to bid.

Forbes has valued the Bills at around $900 million but experts believe the team will sell for more than $1 billion. Pro sports teams generally sell for more than Forbes valuations, especially in auction-type sales such as this.

If the Toronto group wins the bidding, and the final sale price winds up at, say, $1.2 billion, then because NFL rules cap new-ownership financing at $200 million, the three Toronto parties each would have to plop down about $333 million in cash.

If Forbes is ballpark-accurate that Bon Jovi is worth less than that amount, he presumably then would have to drop down to the 30% minimum from 33% and still sell off almost everything merely to get up his share of the cash — or $300 million in a $1.2-billion purchase.

But remember, nobody can or would liquidate everything he or she is worth. So the fact Bon Jovi is in the Bills-sale process this deep compels one to believe the truth of the matter probably is that he indeed is worth a good chunk more than $300 million, and that he still might find himself hard-pressed to meet the 30% threshold should the sale price rise much above $1 billion.

The Bills are on sale because founding owner Ralph Wilson died in March. The trust overseeing his estate has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley and law firm Proskauer Rose to conduct the sale. Prospective bidders have until July 29 to inform Morgan Stanley whether they are proceeding.

Sun Media has reported that it’s ostensibly a two-step sale process, although the trust can change the rules as it sees fit at any time. Approved bidders will submit first (or “indicative”) bids some time in August, probably mid-month, then unless one uncontroversial bidder blows everyone else out of the water, the trust will choose finalists, who will then submit final bids.

It is still possible the sale could conclude in time for ratification by NFL owners at their next scheduled meeting, Oct. 6-8 in Detroit, sources say.