LOS ANGELES -- Forced to choose between being an NFL backup or a starter in a fledgling league, J.P. Losman has taken playing time.
Losman, 28, said Tuesday night he has signed with the Las Vegas entry of the start-up United Football League, where he will be coached by former Giants boss Jim Fassel. He immediately becomes the league's marquee player, a former first round pick who was Buffalo's starting quarterback 33 times over the past four seasons.
An unrestricted free agent, Losman had discussions with Denver and Carolina this past offseason, but the Broncos signed Chris Simms instead, while the Panthers decided to stand pat. With Las Vegas, Losman will be arguably the face of a league.
"I'm trying to get back on the field as soon as possible," Losman said. "I love the game. I want to play this game. I don't want to be [in the NFL] waiting for somebody to get hurt or not play well.
"We're trying to have as much success as possible here, try to create some buzz ... and then go through [NFL free agency] again next year."
Drafted 22nd overall in 2004, Losman threw for 33 touchdowns and 6,211 yards over parts of five seasons but was criticized for locking onto one receiver (mostly Lee Evans), for turning the ball over (34 interceptions) and for holding the ball too long (103 sacks). But he also had four different offensive coordinators -- three of whom had never held the job before (Tom Clements, Steve Fairchild and Turk Schonert).
"If I had doubt that he should not be a starting winning quarterback, I wouldn't take it on," Fassel said. "But I had the same feeling with Kerry Collins ... J.P.'s got tremendous athletic skills. This guy should be a starter in the NFL. I mean, come on ... But I still understand you can help a guy. Even Tiger Woods needs a swing coach.
"Listen, if he'd have went back to the NFL and sat on the bench this year, then he'd have been no better off next year. Whatever anybody thought about him, they'd still say the same thing. Nothing would've changed. ... Instead, you go in this league and you play. The risk you take is you don't play well. But if you're an aggressive person, you say 'I'm going to play well, people are going to see me, and maybe I can erase some of those negatives that were in the past, and a lot of people will say, wow, look at him play now. He's a new guy.'"
Fassel said he liked Losman coming out of Tulane, because of his mobility and arm strength but wondered if he was bitter from the Buffalo experience. With the Bills, for instance, Losman lost his starting job in 2007 due to a knee injury and was displaced afterward by the steady Trent Edwards. But Fassel was impressed -- in early meetings with Losman -- that the quarterback never ridiculed the Bills organization.
"If all they want to do is blame it on other people or on circumstances or on a coach, I can't do you any good," Fassel said. "You have to say, 'All right, I need to get better, I need help.' J.P. did that."
Said Losman: "I'm looking at my career over the long haul. OK, this is where I'm at in five years. But I look at it like, 'Where do I want to be after a 10-year, 11-year career?' There are some things I feel I want to work on that I need to work on, and this league gives me an opportunity to do that and to work with somebody who's had a lot of success in the NFL."
The United Football League will stage a six-game season, beginning on Oct. 8, with teams based in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando and San Francisco. Las Vegas is scheduled to play four Thursday night games on national television (Versus) and will also play a "home game" at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The UFL season will hold its championship game Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas.
Other head coaches in the league are Jim Haslett (Orlando), Dennis Green (San Francisco) and Ted Cotrell (New York). Rosters will be released at a later date, and each team will be allowed to sign players cut from NFL rosters in August and September.
Losman has signed an undisclosed, one-year contract, prorated over the six games, and, following the UFL title game in November, he will be free to rejoin the NFL immediately.
Losman said: "It's not a slam dunk by any means" that the UFL will revive his career, but his hope is to follow in the footsteps of Steve Young (USFL), Tommy Maddox (XFL) and Kurt Warner (Arena Football League) -- three other signal-callers who took alternative routes to the NFL.
"Quarterbacks, all they need to do is fit in the right circumstance," Fassel said. "I can name a lot of Hall of Fame quarterbacks that at the end of four years, you'd be shocked at their numbers and where they were. You take Steve Young, who was at Tampa. You look at his numbers after four years. You look at Terry Bradshaw's numbers after four years, you look at John Elway's numbers after four years, and you look at Brett Favre's numbers after four years. And if I didn't have a name on those, you might've cut them.
"Now that's after four years ... and my study is based upon having patience and the right circumstances with quarterbacks. And they didn't have great circumstances. Listen, Brett Favre got traded, Steve Young got traded or cut, I'm not sure. Dan Reeves tried to trade John Elway. And Terry Bradshaw was just playing on a frigging great team, OK? Three out of four of those quarterbacks were either traded or tried to get traded. And you know what? They're Hall of Fame guys."
Fassel said his point is that Losman's career isn't a bust yet. "You've got to be blind not to see this guy can play quarterback," the coach said. "And if he does his job this year and everything works out, I'll be the happiest guy in the world if next year, there's 12, 14, 16 teams saying, 'This guy's a quarterback; we all miscalculated this thing. He can play. Let's go get this guy now.' And then he's back where he wants to be. That's fine with me. I have no problem with that.
"In fact, I've thought about it a lot at night. I want that for him, and I feel the accountability. It's my job now to get him going. Because I think he'll make the commitment and I'll make the commitment, too."
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.