When Jon Gruden came to Tampa Bay in 2002 he said he was in the business of collecting quarterbacks. After all, his offense, which is a version of the West Coast system, is quarterback-driven.

What happened at One Buccaneer Place on Saturday – signing former Philadelphia quarterback Jeff Garcia and trading for the rights to Denver quarterback Jake Plummer – might be deemed by some as collection overkill, but given the team’s desperate situation at the QB position last year with Chris Simms losing a spleen and being placed on injured reserve, and Tampa Bay being forced to start rookie Bruce Gradkowski and third-stringer Tim Rattay, maybe overkill is a good thing.

Not only did Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen acquire the top quarterback in free agency in 2007 by signing Garcia to a two-year deal worth what is believed to be $5 million per season, he also acquired Plummer in exchange for a conditional 2008 draft pick that Allen didn’t necessarily classify as conditional.

Plummer, 32, has completed 57.1 percent of his passes for 29,253 yards. He's tossed 161 touchdowns and 160 interceptions. Plummer has 136 career starts and produced an impressive 40-18 record as Denver's starting signal caller. 

The one widely reported caveat to the deal is that Plummer doesn’t want to play in Tampa Bay and is leaning towards retirement. Even if Plummer does follow through and file retirement papers, the Bucs will maintain his rights for the next three years, which is how many years he has left on his contract, and they will surrender that 2008 draft pick to Denver regardless of whether Plummer plays again or not.

“We own the rights to Jake Plummer. I talked to Jake yesterday and he feels at this time he is contemplating retirement. We understand that, but he is a member of the Buccaneers right now,” Allen said during a press conference that announced the signing of Garcia. “We have traded for a draft choice in the 2008 draft, which is undisclosed.

“We own the rights to Jake. There are other conditions with it, but the pick [will be sent]. We traded for Jake. We own Jake’s rights.”

Some of those conditions could be which pick the Bucs will eventually send to the Broncos depending on whether Plummer retires or plays. Allen would not elaborate.

If Plummer retires, the Bucs will own his rights through his retirement and there will be no cap hit on Tampa Bay’s salary cap. If Plummer doesn’t retire and decides not to report to camp, the Bucs could place him on the “did not report list,” which would not allow his salary to be on Tampa Bay’s books, or Tampa Bay could release or trade him at that time.

The only way Plummer’s $5.3 million salary affects Tampa Bay’s salary cap during the regular season is if he reports to training camp. Because Plummer is a member of the Buccaneers right now, his $5.3 million base salary does count against Tampa Bay’s salary cap.

Allen publicly ruled out the possibility of Tampa Bay trading Plummer by saying, “I would not have acquired him just to trade him.” However, there is speculation around the league that Plummer could still be dealt to the Houston Texans for a draft pick or quarterback David Carr, whom has also been on Tampa Bay’s radar screen this offseason.

Another rumor, reported on ProFootballTalk.com on Saturday, is that Tampa Bay could trade Plummer to the Oakland Raiders, who need a veteran quarterback to play immediately while the franchise grooms LSU's JaMarcus Russell, who is widely believed to be the first overall pick in the draft. Tampa Bay could acquire a draft pick or a player from Oakland.

Yet Allen was discussing Plummer as if he believes there is a chance he may forego retirement and play for the Buccaneers in 2007 or possibly in 2008 after sitting out for a season.

“I think Jake Plummer will play again,” Allen said. “I think he’s a good player. If you look at his record over the last four years he’s one of the best quarterbacks in our league. I think he has the fourth-highest winning percentage and he’s the only one who hasn’t won the Super Bowl trophy out of those four. I think right now he’s taking time to think about it, which is fine, but we own his rights. Players are people. We do put them up on pedestals, and many of them do belong in the role model image. He went through a tough season. He was the fourth-winningest quarterback in the NFL and he got benched? Can you imagine any of the top three guys getting benched? No. He was 7-4 and he got benched. That was something that is unusual. He was a Pro Bowler the year before. I’m sure he just wants to weigh some things in his mind and take some time.

“We traded for him and we own his rights. We’re going to have further discussions at another time. There is a chance he doesn’t play in the 2007 season. He might sit out a year. I’ve had players contemplate retirement. I’ve had players announce their retirement. Napoleon Kaufman wanted to retire and came back and played two more years. He left for an entire offseason. Steve Wisnewski – one of greatest people you would ever meet – retired and then came back because he wanted to for one more season. There are numbers of them. It is a demanding job and the position of quarterback has some of the greatest demands on it.”

Allen denied speculation that Plummer opted to retire and not play for the Buccaneers because he wanted to be guaranteed the starting role in Tampa Bay instead of having to compete with Chris Simms and Jeff Garcia.

“Anyone who knows Jake knows that he is a great competitor, as is Chris Simms, as is Jeff Garcia,” Allen said. “Our goal was to get both of those guys, and we did. I don’t know if it would have been possible unless Jake was going through with what he went through, but the love affair with the Buccaneers and Jeff Garcia has been well documented over the last three years.”

Whether or not Plummer winds up playing a down in Tampa Bay, the Bucs greatly helped themselves by landing Garcia, who has completed 1,811 of 2,972 passes for 20,385 yards, with 136 touchdown passes and 73 interceptions, and boasts a QB rating of 86.4.

“By obviously having the group of quarterbacks that we have, we feel very comfortable going into this season,” Allen said. “We have a quarterback who was in the playoffs last year as a starter and won a game in the playoffs. We have Chris Simms, who is coming back from his injury. We have Bruce Gradkowski, who is learning the system. We have Luke McCown, who if we can keep healthy, we feel has a future. We feel good about the guys we have right now. If we can find this kind of competition at every position, that’s what we’re trying to do.

“I think we have all witnessed that people get hurt in this league. Hopefully this stable of quarterbacks can lead us through the season.”

Although Garcia’s exact cap hit for the 2007 season is unknown at this time, the Buccaneers can afford the contracts of Garcia, Plummer and Simms, which is expected to be over $10 million combined because the team has approximately $20 million of cap room left to spend in free agency. More cap room can be created by releasing, trading or restructuring contracts, too.

“I think if you add [the quaterbacks’ salaries] all up, it’s still less than some team’s one quarterback would cost,” Allen said. “We have plenty of room. We started at around $25 million.

“We feel good about our quarterback position. That’s why they’re both here. Having Jeff here, having Chris here, having Bruce here and having Luke here, we feel we have improved our position. We are bringing back starters that include a Pro Bowler and a playoff player. Chris did lead us to a divisional title in 2005. I think the experience that he gained last year – even from the sidelines – was invaluable. The fact that he continued to come to meetings everyday and continued to come to practice every day will make him a better player.”

Garcia welcomed the opportunity to compete against Simms, Gradkowski and even Plummer – if he decides to report to the team and play for the Buccaneers.

“I signed here to compete,” said Garcia. “Nothing is handed to me, and I don’t it to be handed to me. I expect to learn and give my best. Hopefully my best presents itself in a situation where I am the starter. I do want to start, and I believe I can start and contribute this team. But I don’t expect it to come without competition. Competition is healthy. Even if Jake Plummer showed up here after I leave, I welcome it. It’s not a situation I’m fearful of or a situation I’d shy away from.”

ALLEN DISCUSSES OTHER SITUATIONS IN FREE AGENCY
• On the rehab of defensive end Simeon Rice and whether the Bucs have attempted to extend his contract to help the team’s salary cap situation (Rice has one year left on his deal worth $7.25 million in base salary): “He’s ready to go. We haven’t begun any of those conversations.”

• On the signing of former Denver defensive end-linebacker Patrick Chukwurah: “He gives you some great flexibility with your game-day roster. As you know, some games we dress seven linebackers and we are always fighting for that extra defensive lineman. Because of his flexibility, he gives you those capabilities. Plus, his special teams play is excellent. We see him rushing the passer on third down. We see him being able to help us on some second down positions at linebacker.”

• On the status of Tampa Bay’s free agents, defensive end Dewayne White and offensive lineman Sean Mahan: “Dewayne is in Detroit and he is having a nice meeting with a coach he once knew. We’ve talked to him and we have talked to Sean and we’ll see what happens. It’s free agency.”

• Allen acknowledged the free agent visits of offensive tackle Luke Petitgout (NY Giants), linebacker Napoleon Harris (Minnesota) and fullback Justin Griffith (Atlanta) yesterday, but would not classify negotiations with any of those players as “close.” Allen did say that the team had other free agents visiting on Saturday, but did not disclose who those players were.

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