For several years now, the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres have paid former players yearly fees in exchange for attending public events and interacting with fans. It seems that model is changing, and not necessarily because of the global pandemic.
Tim Graham of The Athletic reports Bills players Thurman Thomas and Darryl Talley were told months ago their contracts with the organization weren’t being renewed. The contracts for legends appearances had ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 a year, per Graham’s reporting. Jim Kelly is still under contract for 2020 to this point as the highest-profile former Bills player, but even he admits the other shoe could drop at any point.
“Not sure,” Kelly texted Graham. “Haven’t been told anything YET.”
The report says the team wants to go more toward a pay-per-event model that would allow them to better match the ambassador with the event and include younger players in the rotation. Kyle Williams, Stevie Johnson, Lorenzo Alexander, and Fred Jackson appeal to a different crowd than the players from the early 1990s. (Eric Wood and Steve Tasker work for the broadcast team so their roles in this conversation are a bit different.)
Notably, owners Kim and Terry Pegula were not the ones to deliver the news to the former players, which has understandably ruffled the feathers of some alumni. Talley found out over the winter, before the COVID-19 pandemic became a topic of conversation.
“We hold absolutely nothing against the Pegulas,” Darryl’s wife, Janine Talley, told Graham. “They came to our aid at a time when we needed the money the most. We have nothing but gratitude for what the Pegulas have done for us.”
For more on this developing story, you should subscribe to The Athletic and read Graham’s entire article with much more information on the Sabres’ side of things as well as an extensive conversation with hockey legend Gilbert Perreault.