If you're a general NFL observer, you may have read the news this morning that long-time Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner has stepped down from his post. What you may have missed since then: Banner is trying to put together an ownership group to buy an NFL team, and per a report that I'll temporarily and conservatively label as "reputable speculation" from Philly reporter Howard Eskin, the Buffalo Bills are on Banner's short list.
"I plan to pursue a major new opportunity within the sports field - one that will enable me to apply all that I have learned as the Eagles president," Banner said at a Thursday press conference.
Naturally, any time the ownership of the Bills is brought up - and it happens a lot - interest is piqued, to put it mildly. We've been down this road before, so before you freak out, head on in after the jump for some additional perspective.
First and foremost, note that there has been no indication publicly that the Bills are for sale. Team owner Ralph Wilson, who will turn 94 this October, has never indicated that he'd be willing to sell the team at any point in time. If Eskin's report is accurate, Banner may very well have his eyes set on the Bills, but that doesn't mean they're attainable. (Eskin also mentioned the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams in his report, as well. And for those ready to ask about Eskin, he's a radio personality and also the Eagles' sideline reporter for official game broadcasts.)
Second, let's take a look at a post written by SB Nation's Jason Brewer over at our sister site, BleedingGreenNation.com, which covers Banner's Thursday appearance with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live:
Banner says that he is now in discussions with investors interested in buying an NFL franchise. He plans to put together an ownership group and assume a similar role he had with the Eagles when and if they are able to acquire a team. He does not know if any teams are currently "for sale" but says that they won't target teams that are currently "doing well." Their interest in a team will likely be "driven by their stadium situation." He's also not opposed to moving a team to LA.
Basically, he's looking to re-create what he did with the Eagles. Buy a struggling team that was renting a dilapidated stadium, get a new one built and bring the team back to prominence.
The stadium point is a key one to monitor as this Banner story develops from a broader perspective, as the Bills are currently playing in one of the league's oldest and most out-of-date facilities. As Matt Warren has covered all spring, the Bills are currently working on a set of renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium that could cost taxpayers upwards of $200 million. Their lease with Erie County is set to expire in 2013, as well, though preliminary negotiations have been held to extend that lease. This may be a reason that Banner is interested in Buffalo specifically (again, if Eskin's report is accurate): their stadium situation is clearly not ideal.
I asked Brewer about Banner's reputation in Philadelphia, having spent so much time there. Here's what he had to say.
"He more or less created the art of cap management in the NFL," writes Brewer. "When you see the Eagles signing everyone and yet still under the cap every year, that's him. Plus, he's more or less acted as the de facto 'owner' since Jeff Lurie bought the team. Lurie owned it, but Banner ran it from top to bottom. He led the charge to build Lincoln Financial Field.
"So as a businessman," continues Brewer, "he's held in high regard. Personally, people mostly hate him. He's not charismatic; he talks in very cold, plain business terms. He's been known to view players as commodities, etc. - and while ultimately that may not be a bad thing for the organization, it has always rubbed the fans the wrong way."
As we said earlier, we've been down this road before, with several "potential owners" popping up now and then ranging from Sabres owner Terry Pegula to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. To recap: there are no indications that the Bills are for sale, Eskin's report could turn out to be wrong, and Banner's search for a team to bid on may include Buffalo simply because of the preliminary finding that they're working on stadium upgrades. But clearly, if Eskin is right, this is a situation that bears watching.