NFL commish: Bills should stay

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WASHINGTON (AP) – NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue reassured a New York senator and jittery Buffalo Bills fans Thursday that the league’s new labor agreement won’t hurt small market teams and force the team to relocate.

Tagliabue also told Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer that Bills owner Ralph Wilson, whose vocal complaints sparked Thursday’s meeting, will be one of eight owners on a committee that will hammer out details of how teams will qualify for NFL money under the new labor agreement. “There is every reason to believe the Buffalo Bills will be able to continue as they have with a competitive team,” said Tagliabue, adding the team’s well-being “turns more on who the quarterback is and who the running back” rather than on the specifics of the labor deal.

“What we’re striving to do is focus not just on the Buffalo Bills but on all the small market teams,” said Tagliabue, mentioning the Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, and Kansas City Chiefs.

Wilson praised the outcome as a success, particularly his team’s inclusion on the eight-member committee. “This is only the first step. The senator told me he is going to continue to monitor this situation as will the Bills and all of our fans,” Wilson said in a statement

Schumer said he ended the discussion “very happy and very hopeful about a long future for the Bills in Buffalo.”

Also in the meeting in Schumer’s Washington office was NBC newsman Tim Russert, a self-described “son of Buffalo,” who said his favorite team has “a very good future if this agreement can be worked out.”

Wilson, one of two owners who voted against the labor agreement, has complained the new deal threatens the financial viability of his and other small market teams. Tagliabue said that won’t be true once the specifics are hammered out.

“My own belief is that the ground rules that come out (of the committee) will not be troublesome or problematic for the Buffalo Bills,” said Tagliabue.

Wilson, the Bills’ sole owner since founding the team in 1960, has suggested the league’s wealthier owners played too big a role when the league extended its collective bargaining agreement last month. The Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals cast the only votes against the agreement.

Since the vote, Wilson has sought to put political pressure on the NFL to ensure the viability of small-market teams.

Wilson, long one of the NFL’s most outspoken owners, believes the new labor deal establishes an unequal playing field between large-and small-market teams because it produces an equal allocation of player costs with an unequal distribution of revenues.

While reiterating he has no intention to move or sell the team, Wilson said he’s not sure how long the Bills can survive under the new deal.

Tagliabue said the league’s long-standing salary cap is designed specifically to protect small-market teams and keep competitive balance in the league.

AP-ES-04-20-06 1725EDT

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