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Bills pulling out of Toronto a hopeful sign of front office's commitment to winning

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The Buffalo Bills apparently won't sell off a home game to Toronto this year.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan broke the story before dawn: The Bills are expected to announce they'll play all eight of their home games in Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time in seven years.

That's all kinds of good news for Bills fans.

The development is significant not only for the 2014 schedule, but also within the Bills' front-office power structure.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations told The Buffalo News that skipping a game in Toronto was not an easy sell for everyone at One Bills Drive, but team President Russ Brandon and coach Doug Marrone won them over.

We all know outsourcing a precious home game to Toronto put the Bills at a competitive disadvantage. Marrone valiantly tried to mask his frustrations over the Toronto series when asked about it last year, but contempt bubbled below the surface.

The Bills have gone 1-5 in Toronto. But the original deal with Rogers Media paid the Bills $78 million for five regular-season and three preseason games.

Easy money seemed more important to the Bills than victory.

Bills fans hated the Toronto series from the moment it was announced, and Torontonians proved lukewarm to the idea based on tickets sold.

Rogers Centre had the energy of a morgue but with fewer people. The mood seemed to reach a new low last year, when the Atlanta Falcons beat the Bills in overtime.

Even before last season was over, Brandon privately told people the Bills in Toronto series would continue over his dead body.

But dropping out apparently wasn't so simple for Brandon, who said in January 2013, when he was promoted to president, all Bills decisions "will go through me and me alone."

Gaughan noted Monday on the Press Coverage blog that chief financial officer Jeffrey Littmann and executive vice president for strategic planning Mary Owen would look out for owner Ralph Wilson's wishes in Toronto.

There was a belief that with Littmann being the longtime money man and Wilson's niece Owen negotiating the lucrative Toronto extension merely a year ago, they would be tough to convince.

The source said Brandon faced a long, uphill battle to reach an internal consensus for drastic amendments to the Toronto deal.

But Brandon got it done, and that's a good sign for Bills fans who are tired of financial decisions getting in the way of football decisions.

As I reported from Indianapolis last week at the NFL scouting combine, Bills coaches and scouts have grown skeptical about some decision-makers at One Bills Drive.

These coaches and scouts told me a disconnect has emerged between various departments and that new ideas were being rebuffed by a "this is the way we do it around here" mindset.

Until this week, the future of the Toronto series was gauzy.

Brandon winning this battle could be a harbinger that some football decisions will be considered more important than padding profits at One Bills Drive.

  • BuffaloFan4Life

    Two thoughts on this: 1) If the money was the exact same as it was in the first 5 year deal, Brandon would have been told NO, in no uncertain terms, by Kings Littman/Overdorf. (Or in this case, King Littman and Queen Wilson-Owens).

    2) When we watch the press conference on ESPN over the next couple of weeks, where Byrd is announced by some other NFL team as their number one and best free agent signing after paying Byrd every penny he and his agent have been asking Buffalo for for over a year now, we will come back down to earth. Kings Littman/Overdorf will have won the day over the two "Young Gun Dougs", neither of which in my opinion, wanted Byrd to continue playing anywhere other then Buffalo for the next 4-6 years.

    I know people are turned off by Bryd's selfishness, and so am I, to be honest. If the Bills really offered him guaranteed 30 Million over 3 years, then perhpas Byrd is not worth it. But unlike with Mario Williams, where the Texans never had any intention of seriously re-signing him anyway, and the Bills overpaid, Byrd is a Buffalo Bills home grown draft pick and one of the best safeties in football, just now coming into his prime.

    • Jesse Czelusta

      Mario Williams, can't have it both ways, can't get a smoking Free Agent-deal on the top D man that year in FA-and not overpay? Weren't we complaining that no one likes us and that Wilson was cheap, no High-profile FA's come here........then we complain he was overpaid? Mario is a monster, he won us 1 game, the Miami game, by himself. Give the guy a chance.

    • Rollo Tomasei

      He is a good safety, but ,he is not worth the money that he wants.Move on.

  • Datdude77

    How will WGR55 scare Bills fans into listening to their Radio show now? This cuts at least 50% of that troll, Mike Shoop's subject matter. Oh well.

    • B H

      Sounds to me that your one of WGR55's faithful listener.

      • WHAT?

        Noon to 3 is Jim Rome, not a local host.

        • B H

          Oh yea......Da JUNGLE.......what a idiot he is....when is he and his listeners going to learn that sports news is NOT about Jim Rome......worst 3 hours on radio IMHO.......much rather listen to Colin Coward.....

    • no.buff.87

      How does Schopp stil have a job? Does he ever have anything good to say? He has a complaint about everything. One minute he wants the Bills to toughen up and make a statement in the League, the next he's saying they are poor sports for "running up the score" against Miami. He's a lifelong WNY loser - big fish in small pond. Can't go anywhere else because he isn't good enough, and has to stay where he is because no one here likes him enough to take him in elsewhere. I can only listen to that station from noon-3pm.

  • john

    a late season BLACKOUT is not good news.

    • B H

      The NFL blackout happen not because there are empty seats in the stadium but because we allow them.

      FIRST our government officials should of put a clause in the new stadium funding pact that they signed with the Greedy Bills that if the stadium sells 65% or more seats that game must be on local TV

      And second the fans are stupid enough to still support the NFL when their local game is sold out be either listening to the game on the radio or watching another NFL game on TV.......if the Bills are blacked out I find other entertainment that Sunday and don't watch or listen to any NFL games. If more locals did that the NFL greedy bean counters would take notice.

  • Jim

    I know it will never happen but if Littmann and Owens continue to cause problems Brandon needs to fire them. I'm pretty sure he has the power to do this and at the owners age I doubt he would interfere.

    • Glenn

      Brandon is the major problem with this team. We will not have a winner with him involved. He is a money guy not a football guy. He is part of the problem. Sad to say but until Ralph dies this team will continue to be a whipping boy for the rest of the league.

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.