A New Hope
What will 2013 bring?
by Tony Bogyo
January 3, 2013

Wow take a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays, take a vacation with the family and deal with sick kids and look what happens the Bills go crazy with major news stories.

Over the past decade plus its been very difficult to put together a late season article about the Bills. By the time the season is over youve written just about everything one can possibly say about loss and disappointment about what might have been and what wasnt. You can talk about how much things stay the same with the organization and how little you see things changing. You can think about how the Bills might address numerous shortcomings in the offseason, and you think could happen when the Bills pick makes it to the podium in mid-April pretty standard stuff. So standard I often feel tempted to pull some old articles out of the archives, blow off the dust, change a few names and resubmit them who would know?

Fortunately, this has already been a different offseason and there is change in the air or so long-suffering Bills fans would like to think.

If you read my work you know Im pessimistic Im a fan like many of you who has stuck with the team year in and year out only to be emotionally crushed by their total stagnation. Ive grown hardened Id like to think that Im very slow to drink the Kool Aid at this point you cant just say things you have to prove them. I think there are many of you like me, under various calloused layers.

For the first time in quite some time I have some optimism with recent events. While many of you probably think Im alluding to the regime change and coaching vacancy, Im not (but Ill get to that soon enough). Im actually quite optimistic over the Bills new lease extension that will keep them in Orchard Park in the near future.

Make no mistake about it the lease renewal is a big deal. With a reported $400 million relocation fee (about half the estimated worth of the franchise), the Bills are all but assured to be in Western New York for the next 7 years. Knowing that Buffalo, only the 51st largest TV market in the country, a place that has never regained the vitality it had prior to the end of the steel manufacturing era and as hard hit as any in the recent recession, a place known more for its weather than its attractions and a place home to a football team owned by a man nearing the century mark would have some certainty of staying put for the next seven years is huge.

The next seven years will almost certainly see the team sold to a new owner or ownership group upon the passing of Ralph Wilson as well as the likely return of the NFL to Lost Angeles. Two colossal threats to the Bills staying in Buffalo, but now theres very little threat that either will rob the region of one of its major league teams a team for which the region lives and dies.

Im not sure why it should make any difference to me if the Bills stay in Buffalo I havent lived in Western New York in more than 25 years and I no longer even have close family there but it does. I love Buffalo. Buffalo is still home. I still think the region and its people are the best really you cant beat it. People put Buffalo down all the time and I always think, if you only knew how great it was. I think the soul of western New York is part of the Bills take them out of Buffalo and they arent the same. When the Browns packed up and went to Baltimore the Ravens were not the Browns with a different name they were a wholly different team. If the Bills moved from Buffalo they would be just another team Id no sooner identify with them than with any other team. So to have some stability going into a tumultuous future is a huge deal and one that gives me great optimism.

I cant say that my optimism is much enhanced by the big changes in the management of the Bills. Russ Brandon is now calling all the shots in place of Ralph Wilson and Chan Gailey is gone. Buddy Nix remains as General Manager but it seems pretty apparent that he will transition that role to Doug Whaley sooner rather than later.

Despite all the change, Im not seeing a whole lot thats new and that scares me considering how consistently sub-par the Bills have been for 13 years. Ralph may not be calling the shots and Brandon may be half his age, but it still doesnt mean that the team is being run by a football man. Russ Brandon has done a fantastic job marketing the Bills theyve truly been a tough sell but they need more than a salesman to cure what ails them. Far from being new blood, Brandon has been in the front office for the past 16 years and for two of them was effectively the General Manager that didnt work out so well. Im not at all convinced that the buck stopping with a non-football guy is going to be beneficial to an organization that screams for football acumen at the very least it doesnt greatly outweigh the guidance of an absentee owner is the new boss bringing anything new?

As for coach I am very happy to see Chan Gailey go it had to be done. I really worried a few weeks ago when the Bills started talking about continuity it seemed pretty obvious that the thinking valued continuity over quality coaching and continuity for continuitys sake. Im glad it became clear that Chan wasnt the main for the job, continuity be damned. I like Chan I dont wish him ill at all. I wanted him to succeed, but he didnt he was in over his head, abdicated all responsibility for half the team, seemed to be overwhelmed and said some really crazy things about being better but not showing it he had to go.

Maybe its because the Bills have tried and failed so many times in the past to latch onto a good coach, but I dont have huge expectations about suddenly having the next Bill Parcells on the sideline for the Bills next season. Sure, the Bills will talk to all sorts of candidates former head coaches, coordinators, hotshot college coaches, but I dont see a name out there that really excites me and quite a few who scare me. Perhaps the Bills will get lucky and find another Marv Levy someone who really gets the Bills and makes the most out of the talent on the roster well have to wait and see.

Perhaps the biggest question mark to the Bills near-term success on the field is what will happen at the quarterback position in 2013. Sadly, there is no surefire answer to this problem. Finding an impactful quarterback to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to be a tall order this offseason the free agent market is extremely thin as is the draft, especially with the Bills picking 8th and several quarterback-needy teams picking ahead of them. Because the Bills had no backup plan for what to do if Fitzpatrick didnt pan out, they are in a very tough situation now likely to overpay for a rookie or a veteran who may be only marginally better than the man from Harvard. Im not saying its impossible the Bills will have a very solid signal caller next season one who really allows the offense of blossom, but I think the chances are far more likely well be moaning about poor quarterback play holding the team back. I hope Im wrong about that.

And so here we are as 2013 starts. One of the biggest challenges to the organization has been addressed in the new lease, but still significant challenges remain its a long road to the playoffs and I think the Bills are further away than wed like to think (it seems every year we say that all the pieces will be in place next year). At this point Im just hoping for some forward progress any sign that when the lease relocation fee goes away for a year it wont mean its time to go because the Bills are in a good place and winning. Seems like such a fantasy a winning team in Buffalo, but the New Year is always about hope for the future.