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BILLS SET TO BEGIN TRAINING
CONTRACT TALKS CONTINUE WITH EVANS, LOSMAN

The wait is over.

A longer than usual offseason comes to an end for the Buffalo Bills as they head to St. John Fisher College for training camp this weekend.

The players are scheduled to report today and will hit the field for their first practice at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.

There will be a different look to the Bills as Mike Mularkey makes his training camp debut as head coach. He and his staff welcome a team that has a nice blend of youth and experience.

Except for a few departures, the roster returns almost intact. Many of the new additions should upgrade the skill level and increase competition.

"We like our team," said Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe. "We think we have a team that has a lot of ability. We're enthused about the new coaches that we've added and also about the ability to retain some very good coaches from the previous staff, so there's no reason not to be optimistic.

"Now comes the hard part, which is trying to put the whole thing together, and that's what training camp is for. It's been my experience in football that you usually never have a good football team if you don't have a good training camp. That's where it all starts."

The Bills expect 86 players in camp this summer, but there might be a delay in the arrival of two of them.

Wide receiver Lee Evans and quarterback J.P. Losman, the team's two first-round draft picks, are still unsigned. As of Friday evening, only 17 first-rounders had either signed or agreed to a contract.

Donahoe spent most of Friday on the telephone with the agents for Evans and Losman trying to hammer out a deal, but to no avail.

"We're still working on it," Donahoe said during a break in negotiations. "Until they are signed it is not finished, so we have to keep working on it. We still have a day. There's a lot of time for negotiations. We want them to be here to get started on the right foot, but they have to be deals that are fair to the Bills as well as fair to the players."

The Bills were allotted just over $4 million in rookie pool money to sign their draft picks and college free agents. Figuring out a way to sign Evans and Losman within the confines of the rookie cap has been more daunting than the Bills expected, Donahoe said.

Salaries for draft picks are usually slotted based on their draft position. In many cases, agents are reluctant to make a deal until players drafted ahead of their client are signed.

Evans was the 13th overall selection. New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, taken one pick ahead of Evans, has signed, so has the 14th pick, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Vilma reportedly signed a five-year deal worth about $10.3 million. Harris got a reported five-year, $9.8 million contract.

Losman was the 22nd pick, one ahead of New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who signed a reported six-year, $9 million deal.

Although those figures are a useful guide, Donahoe said it doesn't make his job any easier because of how those deals were structured.

"When you look at the people around us and their rookie numbers, we can't do what they've done," he said. "Our situation is a little different, so it's a challenge to get it done.

"We still feel confident. We'll work hard through tonight and all day (today) if we have to to try to get this done."
e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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