BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At least three groups, including Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, have entered final negotiations to buy the Buffalo Bills.
Three people close to discussions told The Associated Press on Tuesday that New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump and a Toronto-based group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi also have received formal documents in advance of a deadline for bids to be submitted by Monday. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale is being conducted privately.
Two other people familiar with the process say former Sabres owner Tom Golisano is not prepared to submit a bid.
Proskauer Rose, the law firm representing late-Bills owner Ralph Wilson's estate, distributed what are called purchase agreements to each of the groups. The agreements are binding documents that require groups to submit a formal bid as well as establish the terms and conditions of a potential sale.
The team is being sold after Wilson -- the Bills founder and Hall of Fame inductee -- died in March.
The Pegulas remain the front-runners. They have a net worth of more than $3.5 billion, and have the support of local business leaders and public officials because of their commitment to keep the Bills in western New York.
The Bon Jovi group remains intact despite several recent reports of it splintering. The group is rounded out by Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and the Rogers family, which controls Rogers Communications.
The biggest obstacle that has consistently faced Bon Jovi and his partners is the question regarding their intentions to possibly relocate the franchise north of the border.
The Bills begin this season ranked No. 29 in the NFL, according to our first ESPN NFL Power Rankings of the regular season. That's a fall of two spots from their post-draft ranking.
Our voting process is different this season. Instead of six voters, there are now about 80 ESPN NFL experts who weigh in.
Only the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders begin the season with a lower ranking than the Bills, who open their season Sunday against the No. 10 Chicago Bears.
In signing him to a two-year deal last week, the Bills made Orton the third-highest paid backup in the NFL. With a $4 million cap number, only Oakland's Matt Schaub ($8 million) and Miami's Matt Moore ($5.5 million) will count more against their team's cap this season.
Orton's two-year deal can be voided after this season, although it's unclear what would trigger that situation. For now, Orton's deal averages $5.5 million over two seasons.
Here are the details from the deal:
Signing bonus: $3 million
Base salary: $2.5 million
Cap number: $4 million
Base salary: $5.4 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Cap number: $7 million
One argument is that Manuel, as the quarterback, should be a captain. The rebuttal, from some, is that he is too inexperienced to be a captain.
I'm not buying that.
Think of it this way: If Manuel had gone 10-0 as a starter last season and was named a captain this week, would anyone be saying he was too green for the gig? No way.
He'd be praised for his leadership abilities at the ripe age of 24. His hypothetical success last season, even with such a small sample size, would be used as justification for the distinction. On Monday, we would've heard effusive praise from coach Doug Marrone and Manuel's teammates in the locker room about their newest captain.
Instead, Manuel went 4-6 as a starter last season and the questions about his standing as the franchise quarterback continue into this fall.
As a result, Marrone and players had to tip-toe around the subject of Manuel's captaincy Monday.
"If you look at it, it’s mostly veteran guys that have been around," Marrone said of his six captains, which included two newcomers to the team. "I think that [quarterback] position has leadership qualities in it just by the position itself."
"He's a great leader. He breaks down the offense and things like that all the time. Gives us knowledge," running back Fred Jackson said. "It's just one of those things, when we have a lot of veteran leadership on the team. In time, he'll definitely be named a captain at some point."
I think the issues of Manuel's captaincy and his standing as the starting quarterback are linked.
Manuel hasn't earned the 'C' on his chest. It's not something that should be forced. The six players who were elected should be the six players best suited to lead the team.
Likewise, Manuel hasn't earned the long-term title of franchise quarterback. That honor should go to the best player suited for that job. Manuel hasn't proved it yet.
Right now, Manuel has more time to prove he's the solution at quarterback. If he does, then he'll have earned the 'C' on his chest in the process. If he doesn't prove himself, then the Bills should look elsewhere.
At that point, whether or not Manuel is a captain won't matter.
Our ESPN.com NFL staff predictions for the 2014 season were released Monday with more than 64 voters casting their ballots for division winners, wild cards, playoff results and postseason awards.
Did the Buffalo Bills receive any consideration to win the AFC East? No, but it's not entirely bad news.
Four of our voters -- ESPN Insider KC Joyner, ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter Nick Wagoner, Neil Payne of FiveThirtyEight, and Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas -- picked the Bills to earn an AFC wild-card berth.
Payne took it a step further, predicting Doug Marrone as NFL Coach of the Year.
None of our ESPN NFL experts picked any Bills as NFL MVP, nor did any voters have the Bills winning the AFC or the Super Bowl.
However, 18 of our 64 voters picked Sammy Watkins as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. That wasn't enough to make him the consensus pick -- that honor went to Brandin Cooks -- but it was still a respectable haul.
You can find our ESPN NFL predictions here: national contributors, AFC reporters, NFC reporters, ESPN personalities.
ESPN.com Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: at Chicago Bears
This will be EJ Manuel's first "real" test of the season and it won't be easy. The Bills went 2-6 on the road last season, with Manuel's only road win coming against Jacksonville. Given the offense's struggles in the preseason, this is a tall task. Prediction: Loss
Week 2: Miami Dolphins
The Bills beat the Dolphins twice last season -- with Thad Lewis starting at quarterback in each game -- and there is plenty of reason for optimism here. The Bills started strong at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season, nearly beating the New England Patriots and then knocking off the Carolina Panthers. With a pumped-up home crowd, they should pull this one out. Prediction: Win
Week 3: San Diego Chargers
Back-to-back home games in September can't hurt for Manuel. If he gets some momentum going against Miami, it should help against San Diego, which was a playoff team last season. I'm not convinced the Chargers are close to being a power in the AFC, making this a winnable game for Buffalo. Prediction: Win
Week 4: at Houston Texans
This is a classic toss-up game, a road contest against a team that was in the NFL's basement last year. The Texans will be better this season, but like the Bills, they have question marks at quarterback. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick out-duel Manuel? We'll say yes, but it will be close. Prediction: Loss
Week 5: at Detroit Lions
Jim Schwartz returns to Detroit to face his old team. The Bills' road schedule isn't overly difficult and I think they can come away with a few wins along the way. We'll chalk this one up as a victory. Prediction: Win
Week 6: New England Patriots
The Bills played the Patriots tough in last season's opener and also beat New England at home in 2011. It could happen again but it will take a strong effort from Manuel. By Week 6, is he ready to topple Tom Brady and the Patriots? Not likely. Prediction: Loss
Week 7: Minnesota Vikings
Will this be a Teddy Bridgewater vs. EJ Manuel matchup? Perhaps, if Matt Cassel struggles early for the Vikings. This is another winnable home game for the Bills, one in which their improved run defense will be tested against Adrian Peterson. We'll give the Bills their fourth win. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at New York Jets
Manuel had one of his worst games last season in the Meadowlands and was outdone by Geno Smith and the Jets. Whether Smith or Michael Vick is starting for the Jets by this point may not matter; the Jets' defense is tough and should contain the Bills on New York's home turf. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: Kansas City Chiefs
The Bills played the undefeated Chiefs tough around this time last season, with Jeff Tuel's goal-line interception the turning point in an otherwise well-played game. The Chiefs use a controlled offense, led by Alex Smith, and have a strong defense. That's a good combination to beat the Bills. Prediction: Loss
Week 11: at Miami Dolphins
The Bills should escape some of the South Florida heat as this game falls in November, but the Dolphins have a superior quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. If the Bills' defense stays strong like it did last season in Miami, this is a winnable road game. Prediction: Win
Week 12: New York Jets
The Bills handed the Jets one of their worst losses of last season at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a game in which Smith was benched for Matt Simms. Can Manuel have another strong day? It's tough to foresee this far into the season, but we'll say yes. Prediction: Win
Week 13: Cleveland Browns
Who will be the Browns' quarterback by Thanksgiving? Does it matter? This is the Bills' most winnable home game. If they can't pull this one out, yikes. The Browns would gladly take the "W" and the Bills' first-round draft pick next May. But for now, let's hold off. Prediction: Win
Week 14: at Denver Broncos
This begins a brutal December stretch that could ultimately doom the Bills' chances at the playoffs. Pulling out a win against Peyton Manning in Denver would be the Bills' biggest accomplishment in years. It won't happen. Prediction: Loss
Week 15: Green Bay Packers
From one future Hall of Fame quarterback to another. Aaron Rodgers will come in to Ralph Wilson Stadium and hand the Bills another loss, one that would probably put them out of playoff contention. Prediction: Loss
Week 16: at Oakland Raiders
Cross-country trips are never easy, and no matter what the Raiders' quarterback situation is by the end of the season, it may not matter. If the wheels are coming off the Bills' wagon, this will be a tough game to win. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: at New England Patriots
The Bills are in a tough spot with this one. If the Patriots are still battling for a playoff spot, they'll be playing tough and will be a hard team to beat at home. If the Patriots already have locked up the playoffs, then that would likely mean the Bills are out. Either way, not a good spot for the Bills to pull out a win. Prediction: Loss
Predicted Record: 7-9
"Great [first impressions]. Good coaches. Good players. Good young talent. Good starting quarterback," Orton said. "Should have a chance to be a really good offense."
Orton was asked if he considers himself competition to Manuel to be the starter.
"My role is the backup and to be ready to play whenever I need to be," Orton said. "But probably job number one is to help EJ, and that's what I plan to do."
What can Orton do to help Manuel?
"Like him, I started as a rookie. I know how tough that it is. But I also know how great your second year can be, just learning-wise. I didn't get the chance to play my second year, I was back on the bench," Orton said. "But the growth curve from Year 1 to Year 2 is great. Your confidence grows.
"So I'm just here as a sounding board for him. I don't think I know everything. But I've seen a lot of looks, been in a lot of different offenses and played a lot of defenses. Any question he has, I hope I can help him with."
However, Orton feels he can learn the offense quickly after officially signing Saturday.
"This week and I think I'll be ready to go," Orton said.
"Early. Very early," Marrone said when asked when the team first targeted Orton. "I wasn't really involved in that. I'm not trying to pass the buck along, but Doug Whaley would be able to answer that a lot better than me, of what held it up."
Marrone said Orton makes the Bills' backup quarterback situation "better" after the team went through its entire training camp with Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel taking reps behind EJ Manuel.
"I think when you start seeing things unfolding, you have to start having contingency plans," Marrone said. "I don't think that's unnormal, for teams to discuss that, if someone's not playing well, what options are they going to have."
Orton cited family reasons for waiting until the end of the preseason to sign with the Bills.
"Just enjoying family time. I have a 3-year-old, so it was a good time to be with her. To be honest with you, I needed it myself," Orton said. "Anybody who's got kids, I think you kind of know. Just like being around them. But this was the right decision for me, this was the right team for me, this was the right organization for me."
Orton said he didn't consider any other teams.
"The more you're around, you just get that feeling that you're in the right fit. I really didn't think about any other places," Orton said. "When this opportunity arose, I jumped in it."
"I'm feeling pretty good," Watkins said. "Feel just about normal."
The Bills do not have to release an injury report until Wednesday, so coach Doug Marrone declined to say how much Watkins participated in Monday's practice. Watkins left Thursday's preseason finale after re-injuring his ribs.
Watkins hopes to play in Sunday's opener against the Chicago Bears.
"We'll just go and see how far I can go," he said. "I think it's just the pain tolerance I'm gonna have to get through. I just gotta be prepared for it."
However, he may not be full-go during the game.
"Just about any other rib injury. Just the soreness of it. Nothing else can happen with the ribs," he said. "You just have to go out there and be strong and finish the game. If I need to take a breather, take two or three plays off from being hit, that's what I'm going to do."
Watkins took part in routes-versus-air while reporters were present. He dropped his first pass and immediately did push-ups.
It's unclear his participation in the remainder of practice, as reporters are allowed only a brief window to watch regular-season practices.
Watkins re-injured his ribs in the Bills' preseason finale last week.
The Bills will practice four times this week before traveling for their season opener against the Chicago Bears.
Moeaki suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp and was never able to fully recover. He played in the fourth quarter of the team's preseason win against the Carolina Panthers but did not see live action for the remainder of the preseason.
The Bills gave Moeaki a $250,000 roster bonus in March. He had an additional $250,000 in bonuses per game on the active roster this season, so he will not receive any of that money.
Moeaki, 27, signed with the Bills last December after an injury-plagued stint with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The three remaining captains are the same from last season: running back Fred Jackson, center Eric Wood and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
A notable absence among the captains? Quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his second season.
Captains are selected by voting among teammates.
- QB Jeff Tuel
- WR Caleb Holley
- DE Bryan Johnson
- DE Ikponmwosa Igbinosun
- LB Jimmy Gaines
- S Kenny Ladler
- S Deon Broomfield
Tuel fills one of two additional practice squad spots that the NFL added this season. Those spots can be filled with players who wouldn't normally qualify for the practice squad -- Tuel was on the 46-man roster for more than eight games last season -- but still have less than three years of experience.
The Bills have three open practice-squad spots remaining.
The Patriots traded Mallett to the Houston Texans on Sunday, several outlets reported. The Herald's Jeff Howe said the Bills and Dallas Cowboys were the other teams involved in trade discussions:
The Patriots had trade discussions with the Texans, Cowboys and Bills, per source.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) August 31, 2014
Mallett, 26, was a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2011. He has been Tom Brady's primary backup but has appeared in only four regular-season games. He completed 53.8 percent of his passes this preseason.
It's unclear when the Patriots and Bills had discussions about Mallett and if they were affected by the Bills' signing of Kyle Orton on Saturday.
The Texans surrendered a sixth-round draft choice for Mallett, according to ESPN Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli.