We don't know if the problem with negotiating a new lease for the Buffalo Bills qualifies merely as an incomplete pass or if a referee should be throwing a flag on the play, but this much is certain: Everyone needs to regroup and get back in the game.
Keeping the Bills in Buffalo, which will require expensive improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium, is crucial not only to the economy but to the heart of Western New York. The region bleeds blue.
But the converse is also true: Public funding of improvements to the stadium also requires a commitment by the Bills to remain here. New York and Erie County taxpayers cannot be asked to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars just to see the team pack up and go.
Some part of that equation has broken down in negotiations that involve the Bills, the state of New York and Erie County. The Bills complained to The Buffalo News that because of the state, talks are "stalled in a holding pattern."
Albany will be expected to fund the largest part of the stadium improvements. The administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo flatly rejected the Bills' characterization, with a spokesman declaring that the state has the money to improve the stadium and wants to get the deal done. The holdup, he said, lies in the Bills' refusal to commit to a long-term agreement to stay in Buffalo.
Cuomo has repeatedly committed the state to funding the necessary improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium. It is time for Ralph Wilson and the Bills to commit to staying in Buffalo, and to agree to make that commitment part of the new lease.
This is, perhaps, nothing other than what would be expected in any high-stakes negotiation. Each side pushes hard to get what it wants before finding common ground. The state wants to spend as little as possible to keep the Bills, and the Bills want as few conditions as possible to secure improvements to the stadium. It is possible to see recent news stories as a bid to use the media to raise pressure on the state.
Of course, only the people in the room truly know the status of the negotiations and what the obstacles are. It is fair to observe, though, that Cuomo has been clear in his understanding of the need to keep the Bills here, while the Bills have not been forthcoming at all about the team's commitment to Buffalo.
This region needs to keep the Bills here, but it needs to do so within the context of an agreement that is fair to all parties. That emphatically includes the taxpayers, who will be on the hook for stadium improvements that are expected to cost between $200 million and $220 million.
Cuomo could kiss his political aspirations goodbye if he spent $220 million to improve an unoccupied stadium. It would be New York's version of the Alaskan bridge to nowhere.
With talks on a long-term lease stalled, the parties are now concentrating on extending the current lease for a year while negotiations on a long-term lease continue.
There is no reason a long-term deal cannot be done if everyone has an honest intent to come to a fair agreement. If anyone lacks that intent, though, Buffalo may be in trouble.