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Bills have to pay Losman soon or lose him later

>Q: Just wondering why everyone is talking about the need for the Bills to give J.P. Losman a large contract extension and signing bonus at the end of this season if his contract doesn't expire until the end of the 2008 season? Why do they have to do anything after 2007?

-- Joe Suszczynski, Buffalo

A: Good, young quarterbacks almost never hit the free-agent market. So if they don't give him a new deal after this season, then there's virtually no way they could keep him from entering free agency in March 2009. Theoretically, they could sign him to a new deal in October 2008 or February 2009, after next season. Chris Kelsay, for instance, re-signed with the Bills this year just days before hitting the market. The Bills had to pay Kelsay top dollar to keep him off the market, and top dollar for a quarterback is a far different scale. If Losman were to play poorly in 2008, they would not want to re-sign him. If he were to play well in 2008, there's no way he would agree to a deal. No agent would let his client do it. Once Losman gets through his entire contract healthy, it would be crazy for him to not test free agency. If the Bills dragged their feet that long before committing to him, Losman would figure he's better off somewhere else. So if they want to keep him, they need to pony up the money at the end of this year. After the events of the past month, it appears unlikely they will be sold on him enough to make him one of the top-paid young quarterbacks. What if he has a monster second half? We'll see. But if that happens, he would rightly want a massive show of faith from the team, given the fact he did not get it after he came back from his two-week injury.

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>Q: Is it fair to say that Doug Flutie is as responsible as anyone that the Bills are still in Buffalo? I feel that the community has never been grateful enough to Flutie, and that he left town, like many before him, underappreciated and maligned by the mean-spirited and ignorant element of our sports fans.

-- Robert Chon, San Jose, Calif.

A: The credit goes first to the Western New York business leaders who stepped up and bought their share of luxury boxes and club seats. You are correct, however. Flutie was a big factor in helping the team reach its sales goals in the 1998 season. Bills officials acknowledged it at the time. This newspaper wrote about it extensively at the time. Sales were not brisk after the initial push that summer, and it's fair to say Flutie was almost solely responsible for creating an excitement that greatly spurred premium ticket sales. Would the team have hit its sales goals late that fall if the Bills went 3-13 that year? We'll never know. But I think Flutie has received just credit for helping make it happen.

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>Q: The Bills seemed to make it clear that Ryan Neill's role was strictly as a long snapper. But I've seen him getting several reps at DE this season. Is this a numbers/rotation thing or does the team truly think he can play the position well? (He made a great play against the Ravens covering a fullback out in the flat.)

-- Ken Casarsa, Syracuse

A: Neill got a few more snaps at defensive end again Sunday against the Bengals. It is a numbers thing. They were easing Ryan Denney back into action last week. I think Neill did well, so he earned four or five snaps. I don't see him getting much more than that. You're right about the Ravens game. He left his end position and got to the sideline fast on a pass to hold them to a 2-yard gain. Defensive line coach Bill Kollar had alerted the defensive ends to that play during the week, and Neill did a good job of recognizing it.

Bills beat reporter Mark Gaughan answers your football questions every Friday. Send your e-mail to mgaughan@buffnews.com or mail to Question Mark, The Buffalo News Sports Department, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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