Bucs head coach Jon Gruden grew tired of answering questions regarding QB Chris Simms’ health status and future with the team during training camp and preseason, but Tampa Bay’s decision to keep Simms on its 53-man roster has fueled even more questions about the left-handed signal caller.
Simms, 27, struggled to regain his throwing form and mechanics during the offseason, training camp and preseason after undergoing season-ending surgery to remove his ruptured his spleen in September of 2006.
The 2003 third-round draft pick saw his reps reduced in organized team activities and training camp, which in turn allowed Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski to solidify the backup quarterback jobs behind starter Jeff Garcia.
That led many, including Pewter Report, to believe Simms’ days in Tampa Bay were numbered. However, when the Bucs announced their roster cuts and 53-man roster on Saturday, Simms was – and still is – on the Bucs’ active roster, leaving four quarterbacks on the team.
“We're are on the same page, but I’m ready to talk about Jeff Garcia,” said Gruden. “You see the roster and that’s the roster at this point in time.
“I’ll talk about Jeff Garcia – he’s our starting quarterback. We’ll take a look at our roster today and tomorrow and continue to try and improve it. The 53 guys we have today are guys we think can help us. I’ll just leave it at that.”
This marks the first time in Gruden’s tenure with Tampa Bay, which started in 2002, that the Bucs have carried four quarterbacks on their active roster heading into Week 1 of the regular season.
“It is [unprecedented],” Gruden said when asked about taking four signal callers into the regular season. “There’s a lot of unprecedented things in store for me, hopefully. I’m going to talk about Jeff Garcia. I’ll let [general manager] Bruce Allen talk about every guy on our roster and why we chose the people that we chose. I’m just trying to get started with Seattle.”
Simms has thrown just one touchdown and nine interceptions and is 0-4 in his last four starts dating back to Tampa Bay’s playoff game vs. Washington. He has completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,087 yards and tossed 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 15 career starts.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Simms signed a two-year contract extension with the Bucs in December. The deal included a $3 million signing bonus and helped to prevent the team from entering the 2007 offseason with just two quarterbacks – Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski, both of whom have combined for 15 career starts in the NFL, under contract.
In March, Tampa Bay landed Garcia in free agency by signing him to a two-year contract that also included a $3 million signing bonus. In addition, the Bucs traded a conditional 2008 draft pick (believed to be a seventh-rounder) to the Denver Broncos in exchange for QB Jake Plummer, who refused to report to the Bucs, citing that he’s instead decided to retire.
Gradkowski and McCown made the most of their extra reps in training camp and preseason. In fact, Gradkowski completed 62.1 percent of his passes and threw for 408 yards and tossed four touchdowns and no interceptions while McCown completed 72 percent of his throws for 394 yards and tossed four touchdowns and one pick in preseason.
The Bucs were pleased with the performance of Gradkowski and McCown, but they’ve seen some progress from Simms and are still hoping he can reemerge in the battle for the right to play quarterback in Tampa Bay.
“You have to admit that Luke McCown showed great promise in the preseason for a guy that’s been totally been gone for the last year and a half,” Gruden said. “Bruce showed tremendous promise. Bruce Gradkowski didn’t take a sack. He did well and is a young guy with promise. And Chris Simms is a young guy with promise. We have three young guys now with that have some playing experience and talent, and we have a veteran guy that we’re high on. We’re not in any hurry to lose a guy that we deem a pretty good prospect at that position.”
Simms missed Thursday night’s preseason finale with a hip injury. That same injury caused Simms to miss Sunday’s practice at One Buccaneer Place.
“He’s finishing up whatever rehab he’s doing,” said Gruden. “He’s supposedly going to be ready soon.”
Some reports have speculated that the Bucs have retained Simms because they’re attempting to trade him. There is still the notion that Simms could eventually wind up on injured reserve with his recent hip injury, too.
If the Bucs intend on trading or releasing Simms, they’ll likely do it sometime in the upcoming week. That’s because Simms’ $2 million base salary will become guaranteed if he’s on Tampa Bay’s active roster for its Week 1 game in Seattle.
Trading or releasing Simms before Tampa Bay’s game at Seattle would create $1 million in cap room for the Bucs this year and would cause their 2008 cap to take a $1 million cap charge.
Gruden said the Bucs will continue to look for ways to upgrade their roster, and he gave no indication whether Simms’ roster spot is safe or just temporary.
“There’s a chance there will be some changes,” said Gruden. “We’re not unlike anyone else. We’re looking at the players that became available last night and there still are some trade situations that are rumor at this point, We’re going to try and get better any way we can.
“I don’t feel like I’m handicapped in any way. We have four [quarterbacks] at this point in time and we’ll reevaluate our quarterback situation as we go.’
Gruden suggested Tampa Bay would not announce whether Gradkowski or McCown would serve as the No. 2 quarterback in Seattle until the day of the game.
Uncertainty still surrounds Tampa Bay’s quarterback position, but the one thing Gruden is certain of is Garcia’s ability to lead the Bucs offense.
“I’ve always wanted a good quarterback, a great quarterback – a guy that can dominate. I’ll be perfectly clear on that,” said Gruden. “I think Jeff has had times – he was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback in San Francisco. At times he’s been clutch, stellar, great at times. I saw him late in the season in Philadelphia in a tough situation in New York and some tough places clearly play great quarterback. I just want a quarterback that can be stellar and can help us win a championship. Having a guy like Garcia gives us that opportunity.”
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