For the tinkerers of sport, those fascinated by why some teams consistently win and others consistently lose, this has been a fine week. A master builder, Gabe Paul, is on the move; and NFL team considered near dominance four years ago is in the same awful state of eight years ago; two teams moved ever closer to the sort of panic that might keep them from ever being successful.

Paul managed to slip through the Yankees' World Series victory without getting his proper due. It can be argued that his mind had more to do with the Yanks' rise from also-rans to champions than George Steinbrenner's money.

Of the Yankees' 24 World Series players, half were obtained through Paul-directed trades, though their salaries were a major reason the Yanks were able to obtain pitcher Ken Holtzman and shortstop Bucky Dent.

Still, in player-for-player deals, paul performed. He traded Bobby Bonds to the Angels and got Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa; he traded Fritz Peterson, Steve Kline, Tom Buskey and Fred Beene to the Indians for Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow; he traded Lindy McDaniel to Kansas City for Lou Piniella.

Paul traded George Medich to the Pirates for Willie Randolph and Dock Ellis and then peddled Ellis to the Oakland A's for Mike Torrez.In 1976, the year before Steinbrenner paid nearly $5 million for Reggie Jackson and Don Gullet, the Yanks won the AL East by 10 1/2 games. In 1977, they won the AL East by 2 1/2 games.

Of course, the 68-year-old Paul inadvertently helped himself with the Yankees by trading Graig Nettles when he was running in the Cleveland Indians. Shovel in hand, he soon will rejoin the Indians.

In 1974, the Buffalo Bills, the Redskins' opposition today, seemed on the verge of being an NFL power. From a 1-13 record three years earlier, they were 9-5 and the AFC wild-card team, with the best offensive line in the league blocking for the best runner, O. J. Simpson.

The Dolphins were beginning to slide, and no other AFC East team could muster anything beyond a 7-7 record. But the Bills were not the power they seemed - and impatience and trades that once seemed reasonable but now look awful dragged them to their present 4-21 record the last two years.

In that vintage season, the Bills won six games by a total of 19 points, which means that with a small amount of bad luck they could well have been 3-11 instead of 9-5. The bad luck - in the form of injuries - came quickly.

Though Simpson gained 1,503 yards last season, the Bill staggered to a 2-12 record, mainly because quarter back Joe Ferguson missed seven games with a back injury and such as Ahmad Rashad, Pat Toomay, J.D. Hill and Earl Edwards were traded without getting full value in return.

Decent players habitually went swiftly from former coach Lou Saban's doghouse to other teams or unemployment. Saban once fired kicker John Leypoldt on his gost-game television show.

"We'll get things squared away," Saban always said. But they clearly did not. And the Bills and Simpson have been an enigma over the years.

In his least productive season in a five-year period, the Bills made the playoffs. The day he rushed for 273 yeards the team lost to Detroit by two touchdowns. They beat New England by 10 points the week he underwent knee surgery this season.

The Bills once had an exquisite offense, but no defense. Now neither is potent - and their division is 'he most competitive, a factor the Redskins ought not to overlook today.

One notion fast becoming a theory of sport is that no pro team can become great without first being awful. Some examples are the Lombardi Pakers, the Shula Dolphins, the baseball Phillies and the basketball Trail Blazers.

But being awful does not guarantee future championships, as the Saints and others have shown time and again. Which leads to the question the two most glorious losers in the sport at the moment - the Wahington Caps and the Tampa Bay Bucs - are asking themselves: are we willing to compromise the future for the present?

If the Caps and Bucks were just mildly bad, like the early Cowboys or the present Seahawks, the answer would be a firm no. But Tampa Bay is on the verge of losing the 26th straight game of its regular-season existence and the poor Caps have gone 18 straight games without winning.

The temptation in such embarrassing situations is to deal off future high draft choices for players capable of bringing a small measure of instant mediocracy. Which would push back dreams of instant mediocrity. Which would push back dreams of even mild success at least a few years.

It says here the Bucs are two quality linemen and a Billy Kilmer-like quarterback away from being a .500 team, and that in three drafts - if George Allen chooses to coach somewhere other than Washington - will be better than the Redskins.

It is difficult to imagine any coach doing much better than Tampa's John mcKay or the Caps' Tom McVie. Both teams would be wise to tamper with assorted possible remedies, but had better keep the essential tools - high draft picks - intact.