Buffalo Bills Cliche Countdown: It's A Business

Thanks, C.J. Spiller. Until the rookie's most recent comments about his contract situation, this cliche was not to appear on the countdown. But when Spiller had this to say earlier this week, I couldn't help but add it to the list:

They know that I want to be there, but at the end of the day it's a business. You have to do what's best for your family.

In March, I projected that Spiller's contract would be for five years and $26.1M contract, for an average of $5.22M per year. If that, or something less than that, isn't enough to take care of your family, get a better financial planner. But that's not the point of this article; it's merely the genesis.

According to USA Today, the Buffalo Bills spent a shade under $112 million on player salaries in 2009. That includes any bonuses handed out, and ranked them No. 12 in the NFL. For comparison, the Bills spent more on players in 2009 than seven playoff teams: the Baltimore Ravens ($109M), Philadelphia Eagles ($102.5M), Indianapolis Colts ($101M), Minnesota Vikings ($100M), New England Patriots ($98M), Cincinnati Bengals ($95M), and Dallas Cowboys ($91M). The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints spent $122M, while the New York Giants topped the list at $138M.

Because the total payroll includes signing bonuses, it's not the only reflection of the team's salary structure we should look at. Analyzing another statistic, median salary, shows the Bills ranked No. 27 in the league with a $735.5 K median a year ago. Essentially, if you lined the Bills' roster up from Lee Evans' $9M to Jamon Meredith's $310K, the player in the middle of the line made $735.5K in 2009.

As for individual salaries, the Bills did not have a single player in the overall top 25 last season. The last Bills players to hold that distinction were Derrick Dockery and Chris Kelsay in 2007. Dockery signed his huge free agent contract and made $13.5M that year, while Kelsay's $12.1M year also place him in the top 25.

Lee Evans was the highest ranked Bill by position in 2009, coming in sixth amongst the wide receiver group with Terrell Owens 12. Marcus Stroud was tenth among defensive tackles, and Aaron Schobel was seventh on the DE list with Chris Kelsay 23. Donte Whitner was the thirteenth-highest paid safety in the league. Terrence McGee and his $3M signing bonus only earned him the 18 spot amongst cornerbacks, with Leodis McKelvin two spots behind. Brian Moorman ranked 23 in the P/K category, with Rian Lindell eight spots behind him. While former Bill Jason Peters was sixth on the list for offensive linemen, the Bills didn't have a single lineman in the top 30. Geoff Hangartner was 31 in total money thanks to his signing bonus, but his salary was only 62 in the entire group of offensive linemen. The team didn't even have a linebacker in the top 50 at the position, with Kawika Mitchell slotting 51.

There were definitely some surprises when looking at some of the Bills' 2009 salaries. McKelvin was sixth on the team in salary thanks to a huge $5.8M bonus. Roscoe Parrish and his $2.5M salary ranked ahead of Fred Jackson's $2.25M. Marshawn Lynch was only paid $632K, and Paul Posluszny only $700K.

Where does all that money come from? How can the Bills afford to hand out contracts to all of their players? It mostly comes from shared revenue of the NFL teams.

Following the 2008 season, Forbes valued the Bills at $909M, 26 in the league. Their revenue was measured at $222M which places them 25 in total money earned. Team revenue is buoyed by the league's television deals and other shared money.

The better way to truly compare teams is operating income. That's the total income from merchandise, tickets, parking, concessions, and everything else that is unique to an individual team. In 2008, the Bills' operating income was $39.5M, good for a surprising 12. Conversely, the Washington Redskins made $90.3M. So in a truly capitalist system, the Redskins would be able to spend over $50M more on players and coaches than the Bills.

Digging into the past, Ralph Wilson, Jr. is a big reason that a lot of that shared money exists today. In 1960, Wilson helped negotiate the first television deal for a pro football league, when the AFL signed with ABC. Those monies were equally divided amongst the AFL teams because New York Titans owner Harry Wismer knew that if all the teams were competitive, the league would be more popular. Wilson was also on board with the AFL-NFL merger that eventually took place in 1970, and took both leagues to new financial heights.

Recently, the Bills have sold out two home games with a third close behind. That is great news for the business aspect of the team. It is a business, after all, and if we the fans stop spending, the business will move on. That's the cold, hard fact.

If a new owner moves the Bills after Ralph Wilson's passing, I'm sure we'll hear the spokesperson say, "it's a business." Speaking as a fan, it's not a business to me.

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