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Quarterback Chris Simms will enter training camp as the undisputed starter for the Buccaneers.

The fourth-year signal caller got some valuable playing time under his belt last year when he replaced the injured Brian Griese in Week 6 as the starter.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Simms never looked back. Even through he struggled in his first two starts, Simms managed to complete 61 percent of his passes and throw for 2,035 yards and toss 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions en route to helping the Bucs win the NFC South division title and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

With Griese’s cap value soaring to just over $7 million in 2006, the Bucs made re-signing Simms, who was a restricted free agent, a priority. Just before the start of free agency, the Bucs inked Simms to a one-year, $2.1 million contract.

Tampa Bay attempted to restructure Griese’s contract, but couldn’t agree to terms with the veteran signal caller, which led to his release shortly after the Bucs re-signed the left-handed Simms.

That move freed up some much-needed salary cap room – about $4.5 million – but left the Bucs without a veteran competitor who could push Simms for the starting job this year.

Luke McCown and Tim Rattay, both of whom arrived in Tampa Bay via trades last year, will compete with each other for the No. 2 job behind Simms.

While Rattay, 29, has started 16 of the 32 games he’s played in at the NFL level and is well versed in the West Coast offense from his playing days in San Francisco, he’s not a lock to win the backup job.

Rattay (6-0, 200) is a name that hasn’t been mentioned too often at or around One Buccaneer Place, which is quite curious seeing as the team was fairly high on him when it traded a sixth-round pick to the 49ers to acquire his services last year.

The Bucs also didn’t show too much faith in Rattay when they expressed interest in several available quarterbacks, including Griese, Aaron Brooks, Patrick Ramsey and Seneca Wallace, this offseason.

The Bucs seem to be higher on McCown — a player that quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett sees a lot of upside in. While McCown (6-3, 212) lacks ideal playing experience, the Bucs love his size and mobility.

Although Rattay is scheduled to earn $1.25 million in 2006, no one should be surprised if McCown wins the backup job behind Simms. McCown did, after all, hold onto the No. 2 job and kept Rattay at bay throughout the entire regular season and into the playoffs last year.

Rattay, whose salary cap value would be considered quite high for a third-string quarterback, actually could be in danger of losing his roster spot should Tampa Bay draft a quarterback or sign a veteran signal caller that becomes available in June or July.

Simms is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2006 season. The Bucs are interested in signing Simms to a long-term deal, but they also want to make sure he’s their quarterback of the future before making that type of financial commitment to the former third-round draft pick.

It appears as though Tampa Bay is willing to risk having Simms turn in a Pro Bowl-type season in a contract year if it means avoiding signing him to a long-term deal just to have him struggle this season.

Rattay also is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2006 season, and with Jared Allen considered an extra arm for training camp, some believe the Bucs could invest one of their 10 draft picks on a quarterback.

If the Bucs use a mid-round pick on a quarterback, Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal is a player the Bucs would consider seeing as he’s a tremendous athlete and has a strong arm and scrambling ability.

With more pressing needs at several other positions, the Bucs could consider taking a quarterback on the second day of the draft, including Bruce Gradkowski (Toledo), Brett Basanez (Northwestern), Travis Lulay (Montana State), Ken Smith (Central Michigan), Tarvaris Jackson (Alabama State) or Brett Elliot (Linfield), but none of these players would be considered as much of a threat to McCown or Rattay as a player like McNeal would.

They could draft a quarterback, but our guess is the Bucs ultimately will take Simms, McCown, Rattay and Allen into training camp in July.

Current Position Grade: B-

Bucs Update Publishing Schedule
April 21 – Running Backs
April 21 – Wide Receivers
April 22 – Tight Ends
April 23 – Offensive Tackles
April 23 – Centers/Guards
April 24 – Defensive Ends
April 25 – Defensive Tackles
April 26 – Linebackers
April 27 – Cornerbacks
April 27 – Safeties
April 28 – Kickers/Punters

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