Nick Barnett admits he’s thought about it.
“L.A. Bills maybe?” he said, letting the sound of it linger for just a second. “I think it sounds a lot better as Buffalo. The Buffalo Bills being here, I mean, it’s a tradition. It’s a great place for the team to be and a great place to play football, so I’m glad they’re able to keep the team here.”
Reaction in the locker room Friday to the news the Bills have reached a 10-year lease agreement with the state and Erie County to continue calling Buffalo home ranged from completely unaware to ecstatic a deal was done.
“Being in a season, you’re so consumed with everything else, but I think there was a confidence and a faith in everybody working on it that there was something that was going to get done. That was kind of the feeling that we had and kind of what we had been told, and so I think it’s great for the new agreement, just to have something set in stone to know that this franchise is going to stay here for years to come. I think it’s a great relief for the fans,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said.
“I’ve been here for four years now, so we consider ourselves part of this community. Just to see the impact the Bills have on everybody - when we’re playing well, the smiles everybody has on their faces, when we’re not playing well kind of the drag and the lull - you feel it in the community. I know the people live and die by how we perform, live and breathe the Buffalo Bills, so this is why this is such a big agreement.”
As Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Bills CEO Russ Brandon were holding a news conference inside the media room inside the team’s fieldhouse, players were finishing their final practice of the week in preparation for Sunday’s game at Miami. They were informed of the news as they came off the field, sweat still pouring from their faces.
“It’s definitely great news. It’s great for the franchise to have some security that we’re going to stay in this area,” center Eric Wood said. “Everybody knows L.A. was going to pop up and grab at least one team. It’s great that we’re not going to be one of those teams.
“It means a tremendous amount. The amount of friends I’ve made up here, I’m glad those won’t be severed any time too soon. This area embraces us really well and we do a lot in the community.”
The locker room is an isolated place, so much so that some of the players interviewed Friday were learning from reporters about the lease negotiations for the first time. That’s not a shock given the turnover every year on a football team, but for some of the veterans who have been in Western New York for years, Friday’s agreement took on a deeper meaning.
“I am glad to know that’s taken care of for the foreseeable future. I think it’s great news for the community, our fans,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who’s in his seventh season with the team. “I’ve been here a while and want to be here a while. That’s exciting.”
“Any time you’ve been out and about in this city, the morale of the people of Buffalo tends to go with how Sundays go. When we do our part and give them something to be excited and happy about, it usually gives them a great start off to their work week. There’s a deep-rooted connection and history between our organization and our community. I’m elated that they’ll continue to have their Buffalo Bills football,” said safety George Wilson, who’s in his eighth season with the organization.
While the Bills’ long-term future in Buffalo is forever on the minds of the team’s fans, players said Friday the topic is rarely addressed amongst themselves.
“I can’t keep up with that, to be honest with you. You don’t pay attention to the rumors, whatever it might be, California, or wherever people talk about,” Williams said. “I think that it’s obvious that this region and this community love this football team and this organization. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”