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Would Jeff Blake have helped bring Leftwich to Bills?

Question: The Drew Bledsoe deal didn't work out as well as hoped. How might the previous three years been different if the Bills didn't pull the trigger on the Bledsoe trade? -- Dennis Awalt, New York

Answer: This is a long-range hypothetical answer, but here goes: Their best option, in hindsight, would have been to have a really bad 2002 season and then draft their quarterback in 2003.

There were not any top quarterbacks on the free-agent market in the 2002 offseason, and the Bills were not going to get a good quarterback in the draft that year, either. The top two QBs in the 2002 draft class were David Carr and Joey Harrington, taken first and third overall, respectively. The Bills took Mike Williams fourth overall.

There was no way they could have moved up to get Harrington. Detroit was too hot for him. The third QB taken was Patrick Ramsey, who went with the last pick in the first round to Washington. The Bills liked Ramsey but not enough to trade up into the first round for him. The next QB taken did not go until 81st overall -- Josh McCown. Chris Chandler and Gus Frerotte were the two biggest QB names who changed teams in unrestricted free agency that year.

If not for the Bledsoe deal, I think the Bills probably would have signed Jeff Blake as the starter for 2002. Blake wound up signing after the draft with Baltimore to back up Chris Redman. Blake started the last 10 games of that season and went 4-6, throwing 13 TD passes with 11 interceptions. The Ravens finished 7-9. Blake obviously would not have sold any season tickets or created much excitement in Buffalo in 2002. But he wasn't awful. Let's say the Bills would have gone 6-10 with Blake as the QB.

Then the question becomes: Where do they pick in the 2003 draft? Byron Leftwich went seventh overall to Jacksonville, which went 6-10. The Bills loved Leftwich and would have taken him if they had the chance. There might well have been a bidding war between the Bills and Jaguars, with both vying to move up a couple of spots to assure themselves of getting Leftwich.

I think the Bills would have given up a ton to get Leftwich, and he would have been worth it. If they didn't get Leftwich, they probably would have traded down and taken Kyle Boller.

Q: It has always seemed to me that so many potential special teams problems could be eliminated with a guy who can kick off into the end zone, and I can't believe that there aren't kickers who can do it every time. -- Bob Lesser, Jupiter, Fla.

A: Several readers have posed this same question, saying they believe that somewhere, whether it's Europe, Africa or South America, there must be a guy with a leg big enough to kick out of the end zone.

Last year only 8.4 percent of all kickoffs went for touchbacks. There only were seven teams in the league that had 10 or more touchbacks last season. The league leader was Arizona's Neil Rackers, who had touchbacks on 33 percent of his attempts, way ahead of every other kicker.

NFL kickers work out year-round and generally do everything they can to kick into the end zone. It's just not possible to do it a majority of the time. Why? The NFL doesn't want touchbacks. Kickoff returns are exciting. Touchbacks are boring, so the league has continually changed the rules as kickers have become stronger and better conditioned. The kickoff spot was moved from the 40 to the 35 in 1974. Then it was moved back to the 30 in 1994. That same year the tee for kickoffs was lowered to just 1 inch.

In 1999 the league changed the balls kickers use, mandating they kick with new "K" balls every game. If teams found some group of foreigners who could kick out of the end zone every time, there is no doubt the league would change the rules again to ensure that 90 percent of kickoffs get returned.

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

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