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Bills pay now for gambling on Losman

Buffalo Bills fans must be down in the dumps these days, suffering from an acute case of quarterback envy. Just look around.

The Miami Dolphins made a huge leap at the position Tuesday, acquiring Daunte Culpepper from the Minnesota Vikings for a second-round draft pick. Not a bad deal for a player two years removed from a season that ranks among the best in NFL history.

The New Orleans Saints snapped up Drew Brees off the free-agent market, only one year guaranteed on a potential $60 million investment easily digested under the rapidly escalating salary cap. Brees, who's thrown for more than 6,000 yards and totaled 51 touchdown passes the last two seasons, could be the catalyst to turn around the beleaguered Saints franchise.

Both quarterbacks are recovering from injuries: Culpepper a knee, Brees a shoulder. There's a chance they might never be the same. But if they return to peak form, or anywhere close, the Fish and the Saints have solidified the most important position on the field for years to come and eliminated the dreaded search for their quarterback of the future.

Meanwhile, back in Western New York, uncertainty swirls and confidence wanes. Neither J.P. Losman nor Kelly Holcomb looms as an emphatic No. 1 as we near the onslaught of minicamps and organized team activities. The feeling persists that their competition will yield not a winner but a loser, the starting job going to the lesser of the evils.

No wonder the Eric Moulds camp made it difficult for the Bills to retain the veteran who's been the face of the receiving corps the last decade. Their position was clear from the start. Give him the money and Moulds can rationalize returning for what has the makings of another trying year. But if he's going to play for less, he'd rather do it with a legitimate contender. Can't fault him for that. Unless the Bills have a surprise quarterback up their sleeve, there's nothing for them to gain by dragging this out and leaving Moulds in limbo.

Right now the Bills have more holes than they have fingers, some of it due to the old regime's decision to bring Losman on board. Even at the moment they executed the draft-day trade with Dallas in 2004, one couldn't help but think the franchise would have been far better off using the picks surrendered for Losman to fortify other positions, most notably the offensive line. Instead, they overspent for the fourth quarterback taken in the draft and, to this point, have nothing to show for the gamble.

Granted, Losman has barely begun the development process. Brees went through similar struggles in San Diego, discouraging the Chargers to the point where they grabbed his replacement in the '04 draft. That's the problem with young quarterbacks. How much time is enough time and when does it start becoming time wasted?

Losman's emergence would, in some circles, justify the price paid and the risk dismissed when the draft-day trade was made. But how much more stable would the franchise be at this stage had the Bills spent their picks on other concerns while retaining, at least for the time being, the status quo at quarterback?

You have to admit, this would have been an interesting free agency period if the Bills weren't wed to Losman. They could have entered the bidding for Culpepper instead of seeing a chief rival land him for a song. They could have been in the market for Brees, another proven winner. They would have been in the position, like the Dolphins and the Saints, to vastly improve overnight.

Instead, they're trying to plug the defensive line and the offensive lines and address a need at safety. And once that's done they'll move onward, the overriding question still unanswered.

OK. Who's the quarterback?

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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