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What goes into determining the National Football League's executive of the year? Is the award solely based on what the exec has done for his current team, in which case John Butler looms as a leading candidate? Or are the voters also asked to consider to what extent the mastermind undercut his former team, which would pretty much eliminate Butler from the running no matter if the Chargers go 14-2 and take the Super Bowl in a rout.

Enjoy it while it lasts, San Diego. Before you know it Butler will be dealing out oversized contracts to every middle-of-the-road Charger, spending your franchise into salary-cap poverty. And when the deed is done, when the options are to either tough it out or find a new sugar-daddy owner to feed his spending habit, Butler will reach for the money faster than the toad inhales the fly.

Just ask us. We know.

This Bills team you'll see Sunday? It was Butler's going-away present to Buffalo. Not much to behold at the moment, is it? That's why Butler's out of here. You think he wanted to deal with the mess he created? He doesn't get that $7.5 million contract, does he, if he's coming off 4-12, or wherever this season is taking us. What's that you say? Butler didn't quit? He was fired? Believe it if you like, if you choose to dismiss the circumstantial evidence, if it makes your own story that much cozier. But let the record show that Butler's response to 12 years on the Bills payroll was to ignore the contract overtures of owner Ralph Wilson throughout his 13th. Wilson says he approached Butler six times between July and December, seeking to talk deal. Butler rebuffed him every time, frustrating the owner, who eventually asked his GM to name his price.

"And he would not give me an answer," Wilson said after the season. "Now, upon reflection, I know that he didn't want to give me an answer to the question, because he was afraid I might say OK. This guy just didn't want to stay."

Of course he didn't want to stay. It would have been Butler's job to settle the quarterbacking controversy he created, his burden to announce the franchise was retaining Rob Johnson because salary-cap mismanagement and the long-range future of the franchise dictated the decision.

Butler found the need to release Flutie unstomachable. After all, it was his right-hand man, one A.J. Smith, who had identified Flutie as another Joe Montana while he toiled in the Canadian Football League. Just one question on that matter. If Butler and Smith were so smitten with Flutie, so utterly convinced he was a sure-fire NFL starter, then why didn't they commit to him before trading away first- and fourth-round draft picks and throwing $25 million at Johnson? That would have been genius. The way it came down was just dumb luck.

The QB situation is just one matter Butler was bound to address had he stayed. No less a headache would have been tending to the other cap problems he created, the ones that ensured this year's Bills of taking a huge step backward. Butler got into the predicament by overspending on mid-range players such as Sam Rogers, Jerry Ostroski and John Holecek. He awarded left tackle John Fina a lengthy contract extension at the same time he re-signed left guard Ruben Brown, ostensibly because they had the same agent and, well, if you pat my back, I'll pat yours.

The new regime regards Fina more lightly than the old regime, although letting him go would count $4.4 million against next year's salary cap. As it is, the Bills are already into Henry Jones for $3 million next season, Holecek for $2 million.

So Butler headed off to San Diego, where the risks were minimal and the opportunities enormous. He had, in Flutie, a short-term quarterbacking solution. He had $20 million in cap money to play with. And he had the first overall pick in the draft, which he nicely transformed into a starting running back and a future quarterback.

Oh, Butler knows talent. He'll wow you for awhile. But wait until the expectations rise, the spending increases and the cap strings tighten. Wait and see if he hangs around to deal with what he's wrought.


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