Tonawanda News

March 17, 2012

OUR VIEW: Super job by Bills on signing Williams

The Tonawanda News

— Rarely do the doings of our local sports teams merit mention in the form of an editorial, but the news emanating from One Bills Drive this week warrants an exception.

Bills fans the region over had reason to celebrate the team’s landmark free agent signing of fearsome pass rusher Mario Williams. Allow us to add our congratulations to general manager Buddy Nix and his team. They landed one heck of a big fish.

But more than the Xs and Os of a football playbook, the Williams signing is a generation-in-the-waiting signal that this franchise is finally on the right track.

Around here, football fans are well aware that the Bills have occupied the NFL’s cellar for 12 seasons, since their last playoff berth. Fans here have endured a lost decade, watching a string of underwhelming coaches walk through a rotating door. We’ve seen highly touted draft picks go bust and the good ones leave for greener pastures, fed up with a tight-fisted owner and the mounting losses.

Here’s hoping the signing of an elite player to the biggest contract for a defensive player in NFL history is the start of a new chapter in Bills football. It couldn’t come at a more critical time.

The Bills enter this summer at an impasse. The franchise and Erie County are in negotiations to extend the team’s lease at Ralph C. Wilson Stadium. The money for upgrades to the aging facility will likely require the assistance of New York state, in addition to the approval of county lawmakers.

The team is also reaching the end of a lucrative deal to play one home game a year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. While unpopular with the team’s Western New York fanbase for obvious reasons, the deal went a long way to securing the franchise’s financial footing.

With owner Ralph Wilson’s advanced age, fans are justifiably edgy about what happens after his inevitable passing.

With those questions as a backdrop, renegotiating both of these deals is absolutely necessary to keep the Bills in Buffalo. The Williams signing — and the hope that the team will be more competitive on the field in the years to come — strengthens the team’s standing in the community and the NFL. In the 24 hours following the team’s $100 million investment in a single player, fans have responded. More than 1,000 people have called to buy season tickets. Another 1,000 fans called to renew their seats from last year.

There has never been a doubt that this region loves the Bills. That the franchise, starting with Wilson, has put to rest lingering doubts about the team’s commitment to winning is a fantastic first step not just on the field, but in the ongoing talks to make sure generations of Bills fans to come will have a team to support.