Now Not Playing: Willis McGahee

Fantasy football leagues across the country braced themselves for an onslaught of team owners to acquire or activate Willis McGahee after the Bills did their own activation Wednesday. <P><P> In reality and not the fantasy world, the move was much ado about nothing, or at least next to nothing.

It still doesn't seem likely that McGahee will play this season. And if he does, that would be close to an act of desperation for the Bills.

Buffalo activated him primarily because that allows him to practice with the team. If the Bills hadn't moved him to the 53-man roster he would have had to go on injured reserve and be ineligible for practice. Now, however limited he might be, he can work on timing, running, cutting, getting accustomed to his teammates, going through the motions. So that practice time is important in getting him a head start on 2004.

Playing in a game would be entirely different. One helmet -- even one shoulder pad -- to a knee, and there could go the Bills' investment, not to mention McGahee's career, faster than you could say Ki-Jana Carter.

If the Bills are going to activate him at any time this season, clearly it wouldn't be on the AstroTurf of Texas Stadium this week. They got rid of their own hard artificial surface just to avoid injuries.

Let's look at what could be gained by having McGahee play in any games at all this season, and weigh that against the risk to his surgically repaired knee or any other part of his body.

Could adding him to the running-back mix with Travis Henry (on a pace for 1,100 yards) add more than a few rushing yards to the Bills' offense? Not likely.

Could using McGahee on passing downs be an improvement over Sammy Morris in catching passes or protecting Drew Bledsoe from blitzers? Even though Morris has hardly played because of his own injury, he's back now, so probably not.

Could McGahee put more fans into Ralph Wilson Stadium? Probably not. They should be in the postseason race at least until Dec. 20, and that day they're playing the Fish so they're almost guaranteed a full house.

That brings up the issue of whether the Bills will still be alive in December. That won't be easy. They're playing the league's second-toughest schedule the rest of the way, against teams that have won more than 60 per cent of their games in 2003. That includes Dallas, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Miami and New England, all in a position in the current standings that would make them playoff teams.

The players are talking a good game, saying that they can make the playoffs by going 6-2 the rest of the way. With the Giants, Jets and rapidly improving Texans also on the schedule, 2-6 seems more logical.

Still, unless Henry is injured or some other calamity befalls the Bills, don't expect McGahee this year to contribute much more than the man he's replacing on the roster -- Ken Simonton, with two carries for four yards.

Not playing this season would leave McGahee in better shape for next year and a running-back controversy. But that's a story for then.

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