PHOENIX — A year ago, the NFL was making a strong push for the Buffalo Bills to build a new stadium.
The league's position appears to have softened greatly since then.
According to a high-ranking NFL source, the league now believes that Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are doing the right thing by taking their time before committing to a move from New Era Field. Although the Bills and the NFL would contribute to the cost of building a new stadium, public money would also be involved.
"They want the team to have some success before asking for things," the source told The Buffalo News Monday during the NFL's annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore.
The Bills have missed the playoffs for the past 17 seasons.
The source also said the Pegulas told the league they're still early in the process of establishing themselves as owners of the Bills and understanding the dynamics of the franchise's relationship with the community. They bought the team from the trust of the late Ralph Wilson in October 2014.
"That's smart," the source said.
The News has requested a conversation with the owners this week.
Last year, Commissioner Roger Goodell, executives at the league office, and owners of other NFL teams said they believed the Bills had an urgent need for a new stadium. They considered it vital to the club's ability to compete in a climate where other teams are able to realize the financial benefits of having newer facilities.
One source went as far as to describe New Era Field as one of the “three worst stadiums in the league,” along with those in Oakland and San Diego.
On Monday, NFL owners approved, by a vote of 31-1, the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, where they eventually will play in a new stadium. The San Diego Chargers have moved to Los Angeles and will eventually share a new, state-of-the-art stadium with the Rams, who moved from St. Louis back to L.A. before the 2016 season.
One of the natural questions emanating from NFL owners voting their approval Monday of the Raiders' move from Oakland to Las Vegas is whether it sends any sort of message to another team, such as the Buffalo Bills, with an outdated stadium.
The league's and the Raiders' inability to work out an agreement with the City of Oakland to build a satisfactory replacement for the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was at the heart of the team finding a better deal in a new location.
However, shortly after the announcement of the Raiders' move, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said that there was no reason for Bills fans to read anything into its overwhelming approval as it pertains to their team's long-term future in Western New York.
"This certainly is not intended to send any message and I don't believe anyone should take any message in it," Grubman told reporters at the league's annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore. "Buffalo's fans are legendary and ranked right up there with the greatest fans in the NFL. Ownership there is evaluating their options and those options are very long-term in nature.
"I don't want to speak for them, but I think you can see, by virtue of the fact that they're not waiting and have done work on the stadium already, that they care about their fans and they care about Buffalo."
John Mara, of the New York Giants, was among the NFL owners at last year's league meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., urging the Bills to get moving on the construction of a new stadium.
“It gets tougher and tougher to compete when all these new stadiums are going up and (the Bills are) going to be at a disadvantage, I think, somewhat competitively unless they get one,” Mara told The News. “We’d all like to see them get a new building.”
That comment, among others, sparked strong pushback from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who challenged the league to prove that the Bills were at a financial disadvantage by playing in their current stadium.