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Giving up first pick not best idea

So San Diego running back Michael Turner didn't pay the Buffalo Bills a visit Wednesday after all. Assuming travel issues are worked out, they'll have their meet-and-greet session soon.

After three years of playing in LaDainian Tomlinson's enormous shadow, Turner is getting the L.T. star treatment this offseason. He has become a hot commodity for the Chargers, who are looking to send him to a team in dire need of a running back. You can put the Bills in that category.

But is Turner worth the current asking price? The Chargers tagged him with the highest tender offer possible for a restricted free agent. So any team that signs him would have to give up a first- and third-round draft pick, unless other arrangements are worked out.

That's an awful lot to give up for a player with one start in 43 career games.

Coach Dick Jauron told me at the NFL owners meetings last week that he would have no problem going into the regular season with Anthony Thomas, Shaud Williams and roster unknown Fred Jackson in the backfield. Jauron wasn't laughing when he said this, so I assume he was serious. Or maybe he got too much sun in Phoenix.

But the Bills wouldn't be considering Turner if he wasn't a serious upgrade over what they already have.

Now, I can see why the Bills or any team would be intrigued by Turner, who has a whopping career average of 6 yards per carry. At 5-foot-10 and 238 pounds, he's a bigger version of Travis Henry and he runs just as hard. But Turner is faster, hence the nickname, "The Burner."

He had a 73-yard run during a 138-yard performance against Tennessee last season. He uncorked an 83-yard touchdown to cap a 113-yard day during a Chargers win at the 13-0 Indianapolis Colts in 2005.

Last season he rushed for 502 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. He had just 80 carries but registered seven runs of 20 or more yards. Willis McGahee had four such runs on 259 attempts in 2006.

The big question with Turner is, can he handle a heavier work load. But people who follow the Chargers believe the former fifth-round pick out of Northern Illinois is worth a first-round pick. His best playing days are ahead of them, and the Bills are fond of players on the rise.

Landing Turner means the Bills could narrow their focus in the draft and look to fill holes at linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver.

However, you can't win in the NFL by giving up first-round picks. The Bills tried it three times this decade, all on quarterbacks. The teams that made the trades got the better end of the deals.

Buffalo got Rob Johnson in 1998, Jacksonville ended up with running back Fred Taylor, its all-time leading rusher. For sending Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo in 2002, New England got star defensive end Ty Warren, an annual Bills tormentor. J.P. Losman came in a 2004 draft day trade with Dallas, which got starting defensive end Marcus Spears with Buffalo's 2005 first-rounder.

By keeping the 12th overall pick, the Bills have a chance to get a difference-making player like Patrick Willis, Mississippi's All-America linebacker with Brian Urlacher-type ability, or Michigan's Leon Hall, a prototype Cover-2 cornerback.

You can argue that the Bills are better off with Turner than taking, say, California running back Marshawn Lynch in the first round. But from a cost standpoint, you can get a back much cheaper in the second or third round (think Auburn's Kenny Irons or Ohio State's Antonio Pittman) who could be just as good.

Turner might turn out to be special, but unless the Chargers lower their price, I'd let someone else take Turner off their hands.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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