There's a chance that by 2020, the landscape of the AFC East could undergo a significant overhaul.
That's the first opportunity that the Bills would have to buy out their lease of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo (for a reported $28.4 million) and potentially move to another city.
If the team remains in Buffalo through 2020, the lease expires after the 2022 season, opening the door once again for a move.
Last week Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told radio station WGR 550 that there have been those who have expressed interest in purchasing the team and moving it elsewhere when the lease allows.
Ralph Wilson's death earlier this year made the controlling owner of the Bills his widow Mary, who plans to sell.
“Truthfully, there are parties that are interested in buying the team and moving it,” Poloncarz said, according to ESPN.com. “We are trying to do what we can on our part to show that this community is moving forward to at least explore everything and all the options that are necessary, in the case the situation comes that we have a new owner that says, ‘I own the Bills. I’m fine with Ralph Wilson Stadium for the next five or six years, but I want out and I want to be somewhere different then.’ ”
One of the more likely destinations for the team would be Los Angeles. Multiple owners have suggested that the NFL is destined to return to LA in the near future, and the impending purchase of the Clippers for $2 billion by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may help increase the value of the Bills to the point that the trustees running the franchise couldn't say no to a buyer intending to move.
The logic: If the Clippers are worth $2 billion, an NFL franchise stationed in LA could be worth even more.
Poloncarz spoke to another station in Buffalo, WBEN, to explain further that the team could end up leaving Western New York if an out-of-this-world offer is presented by someone planning to relocate in six years.
“I’ve spoken to [Bills CEO Russ] Brandon, I’ve spoken to [Bills CFO Jeffrey Littmann],” Poloncarz said. “They know my request, which is to pick the owner that’s going to keep the team in Buffalo. But I don’t know if that’s going to be the decision that the trustees will end up doing. If they end up getting a bid that’s so much higher than anybody else, I don’t know if they can turn it down. They may have the fiduciary duty to accept it.”
How would a Bills move to the West Coast -- or to London, where the NFL has long shown an interest in growing its brand -- affect the Patriots and their division? If LA is the destination, would the league at that point re-organize its divisions to make more geographical sense? Or would the Patriots be guaranteed one game a year in SoCal?
It will be a long time before any of those questions are answered, but it's a situation that warrants following as one of New England's twice-a-year foes undergoes this transition period following the passing of its longtime owner.