ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Rex Ryan welcomes the raised expectations that come with the Buffalo Bills setting a franchise season-ticket sales record.
“Yeah, and they should be (raised),” the first-year coach said after the Bills opened a three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday.
“We’ve got a good football team and great coaches,” Ryan said, before pausing and breaking into a smile. “And an average (coach).”
His self-deprecation belies how big a role Ryan’s offseason hiring has made in transforming the perception of a franchise in the midst of a 15-season playoff drought - the NFL’s longest active streak.
“Before I ever came here, I knew how awesome these fans were,” said Ryan, the former New York Jets coach who was hired in January after Doug Marrone stepped down on Dec. 31. “This is just another thing to reinforce it.”
The Bills opened their final week of spring practices before training camp opens on July 31 by announcing they’ve already sold a franchise-best 57,500-plus season tickets.. That’s 10,000 better than last year, and a few hundred ahead of the previous record of 57,132 set in 1992, when the Jim Kelly-led Bills were in the midst of winning four straight AFC Championships.
As it stands, the Bills have a limited number of individual tickets left for only one home game - their season finale against the Jets on Jan. 3. And for the first time in the team’s 56-year history, the Bills are anticipating placing a cap on season-ticket sales at 60,000 for a stadium that has a seating capacity of about 73,000.
The jump in sales corresponds with numerous positive developments aside from Ryan’s hiring.
The franchise’s future is finally secure in Buffalo after NHL Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the team in October from the estate of Bills founder Ralph Wilson, who died last year. And the Bills took an aggressive and free-spending approach to retain and add talent this offseason in a series of moves highlighted by the acquisition of running back LeSean McCoy in a trade with Philadelphia.
“The team on the field hasn’t made the playoffs in the last 15 years, and that is difficult for anyone who is involved in this organization in any department,” Bills President Russ Brandon said. “But it goes back to our fans, and the loyalty they have shown.”
It’s not lost on the Bills that it’s now time for them to start delivering on that support.
“We’re aware of it, and it means a lot for them to still support us like that,” running back Fred Jackson said. “With all that being said, if we don’t win games, that will turn around soon.”
The biggest question mark in Buffalo remains quarterback, a position that’s been unsettled since Kelly retired after the 1996 season.
Ryan has established a three-way competition between EJ Manuel, who lost the starting job a month into last season, and offseason additions Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor.
Ryan is being patient, saying the competition will extend into training camp, where he intends to evaluate how each player performs in pads.
“We might not have the elite of the elite at that position,” Ryan said. “But we have some good players at that spot and the competition, I think, is just going to bring them all up.”
Earlier in the day, the Bills added depth to an already talented defensive front by signing veteran free agent tackle Andre Fluellen.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, Fluellen has seven years of NFL experience spent mostly with the Detroit Lions.
He’s a career backup, who had two sacks in eight games with the Lions last season. Overall, the 2008 third-round draft pick has 4 1/2 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for a loss in 77 career games, including six starts.
NOTES: OG Seantrel Henderson was absent because of travel delays. … OG Chris Williams reported to the team’s facility and met with Ryan for the first time, but did not practice. Williams is still recovering from back surgery last year, and was being examined by the Bills medical staff. … S Deon Broomfield was designated waived/injured to make room for Fluellen’s addition.
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