On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to the media about the future of the Buffalo Bills following the passing of team owner and founder Ralph Wilson. Less than a day had passed since Wilson's passing, so Goodell made it clear that he is not yet looking ahead to the team's future ownership and location.
One thing we now know, thanks to a report from the Toronto Sun's John Kryk: The Bills cannot relocate before at least 2019, and even doing so then would come with a $400-million buyout.
“I’m very familiar with the Bills’ new lease in Buffalo, and Ralph Wilson gave the people of Buffalo and Western New York an enormous gift,” Marc Ganis, president of Sports Corp, Ltd., told Kryk. “In this new 10-year lease that he signed, for the first seven years there is no opportunity to buy that lease out, or terminate it. None. That team is required to stay in that stadium for at least for the first seven years, and one year already has passed in that lease, so for the next six years.”
The current lease agreement actually runs all the way through the 2022 season, though there is that buyout loophole between the 2019 and '20 campaigns. Buffalo had been playing one regular-season game per year at Toronto's Rogers Centre, leading to speculation that the team could move there in the near future.
Now, the topic is more or less off the table for several years.
Goodell said Wednesday that he did not have any new information about the Bills' ownership situation in light of Wilson's passing.
“Well, I haven’t focused on that,” Goodell said at the final press conference of the NFL meetings in Orlando, via Pro Football Talk. “Obviously, my thoughts and my heart are with the Wilson family. That’s not something I’ve spent any time on in recent days.
“We all know they have a lease. We know the terms of [that] lease, and we also know we have to find a long-term solution to keep the Bills there [in Buffalo], and that’s what we’ll continue to work to do, but that’s not our priority right now in the next few days.”
The team is expected to be controlled by a trust for the immediate future, according to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
While a sale of the team is eventually expected to take place, the trust could remain in control of the team for a few years before any sale comes to fruition.
The lease, as Goodell noted, ensures that the Bills will stay in Buffalo for the foreseeable future. NOTE: Josh Sanchez contributed to this post