Copyright 2007

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Jeff Garcia is the eighth starting quarterback head coach Jon Gruden has had in Tampa Bay since 2002, but he could also be just the second signal caller to start every game in a season for the Bucs during Gruden’s six-year tenure. The last quarterback to accomplish that rare feat was Brad Johnson, who started all 16 regular season games for the Bucs in 2003.

Although Johnson helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl in 2002, Garcia might be the best quarterback Gruden has had run his West Coast system since Rich Gannon, whom he had in Oakland.

Garcia has demonstrated some Gannon-like qualities by using his accuracy, mobility and pump fakes to complete 65 percent of his passes for 2,159 yards and toss 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions through 10 games. If Garcia continues to play this well and stays healthy, the 37-year-old quarterback could be headed for the Pro Bowl and the Bucs could be on their way to an NFC South division title.

Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen and the team’s front office made a lot of moves during the offseason, but perhaps the biggest one was their decision to lure Raheem Morris back to the Buccaneers.

Morris, who was an assistant defensive backs coach under Mike Tomlin, left Tampa Bay to become the defensive coordinator for the Kansas State Wildcats in 2006. The Bucs also lost Tomlin that year when he accepted a defensive coordinator job in Minnesota. Tampa Bay attempted to replace Tomlin with Greg Burns, but that experiment failed miserably as Burns never won over the veteran defensive backs.

Allen wisely fired Burns at the end of the season and offered to make Morris one of the highest paid defensive backs coaches in the NFL, and luckily for the Bucs Morris accepted the offer and invitation.

While neither Ronde Barber nor Brian Kelly has an interception through 10 games, Morris, who is an energetic and detailed-oriented coach, has Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield playing great football. The Bucs defense, which finished last season ranked 17th overall, is currently ranked No. 5 in the NFL and No. 3 against the pass.

What makes this even more impressive is the fact that the Bucs have a rookie starting at free safety in Tanard Jackson. Not only is he starting as a rookie, Jackson is making the transition from cornerback in college to safety in the NFL, and he’s played pretty darn well, evidenced by his 54 tackles, two interceptions and team-leading 10 passes defensed.

Success doesn’t come cheap. The Bucs can attest to that notion after losing assistant coaches like Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, Joe Barry and Tomlin to promotions around the league. The same could happen with Morris, who likely will receive some consideration from other teams that are in the market for a defensive coordinator next year.

The good news for the Bucs is they will have the opportunity to keep him. The bad news is keeping Morris likely would mean eventually parting ways with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Tampa Bay has a league-high 12 players on injured reserve, yet it is 6-4 and in first place in the NFC South division. The Bucs have also had a rash of injuries temporarily deplete their roster at several positions throughout the season.

The Bucs got several of those players back healthy for their contest vs. the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday, including cornerback Brian Kelly, running back Michael Pittman, wide receiver Michael Clayton and defensive end and special teams ace Patrick Chukwurah.

The result was an impressive 31-7 victory over Atlanta on the road. The Bucs currently rank 17th overall in total offense and 5th overall in total defense. Just imagine what these two statistical rankings – and the Bucs’ record – could be by the end of the season if Tampa Bay can steer clear of the injury bug. 

There are still some injury concerns. Defensive end Greg Spires will be sidelined for a few more weeks with a torn calf muscle, and Pittman re-injured his ankle against the Falcons, but other than those injuries the Bucs appear to be healthy again.

The Bucs appear to be in good shape heading into their final six games of the 2007 regular season. None of Tampa Bay’s final six opponents have a winning record and they have a combined record of 23-37.

The Bucs’ four losses have come to legitimate playoff contenders in Seattle, Indianapolis, Detroit and Jacksonville, respectively. The combined record of those four teams is 27-13 and three of them are currently in first place in their respective divisions. As long as the Bucs, who have a two-game division lead, defeat the teams they should beat from this point forward they should have no problem winning the NFC South division title.

It was only a few months ago that Bucs fans were debating whether the team should keep Earnest Graham or rookie Kenneth Darby on their 53-man roster.

It’s a good thing Tampa Bay’s front office opted to keep Graham on the team. Not only has he made a significant impact on Tampa Bay’s special teams, Graham, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2003, has emerged this season as a capable feature back in the Bucs’ offense in place of injured running back Cadillac Williams.

Graham has carried the ball 133 times for 556 yards (4.2 avg.) and five touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 182 yards. Tampa Bay’s ground game currently is ranked 14th in the NFL with Graham as the feature back. Why is that stat significant? Because the highest the Bucs’ running game ever ranked in Tampa Bay under head coach Jon Gruden was 14th, which came during Williams’ rookie season in 2005. Darby, in the meantime, is on the practice squad, where he probably belongs, as Graham has proven this season.

Some Tampa Bay fans pulled the hair out of their head when they heard the Buccaneers did not spend all of the salary cap space they had at their disposal this season. But rest easy, Bucs fans. There was a method to Tampa Bay’s madness.

The Bucs currently are $14 million under the salary cap. Per rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Tampa Bay will be able to move all $14 million over to the 2008 salary cap, giving the Buccaneers approximately $30 million in cap room next year.

There are, however, some strings attached. The Bucs cannot just move the $14 million over to next year’s cap by itself. They must pay it out in the form of signing bonus money or likely to be earned incentives through player contract extensions or renegotiations.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bucs have not missed the deadline to rollover the $14 million to 2008. The popular Nov. 5 deadline has come and gone, but that deadline is one that allows teams to sign players to extensions that do not include prorated signing bonuses.

Any deals signed after that date and before 4:00 p.m. on the Saturday before the regular season ends, which in this case is Dec. 29, include prorated signing bonuses, but deals can still be done, evidenced by quarterback Chris Simms’ two-year contract extension in December of 2006.

The Buccaneers currently are attempting to sign several players to contract extensions. will keep Bucs fans updated on those negotiations as we learn more about them in the coming weeks.

However, one thing is certain – the Bucs will use those contracts as the catalysts for the $14 million rollover to 2008. They are able to do that because of a rule in the CBA that has existed since 1994.

All the Bucs have to do is place some likely to be earned incentive clauses in a player’s – or in some players’ – new contract(s) that will be impossible for that player to reach by the end of the season before the Dec. 29 deadline. By doing that, CBA rules state that any incentive added to a contract after the regular season starts are automatically deemed LTBE, and if they are not reached by the player by the end of that season the cap money tied to the LTBE are automatically credited to a team’s cap the following season since they were accounted on the team’s books the previous season.

For example, if the Bucs want to extend the contracts of defensive linemen Jovan Haye and Greg White, who are scheduled to become restricted and exclusive rights free agents, respectively, in 2008, they can include a LTBE incentive for the 2007 season that states each player must record 20 sacks. By reaching that sack total each player would trigger a $5 million LTBE bonus.

But because neither player would reach such an absurd sack total with just six games remaining, the $10 million from both Haye and White’s new contracts would go on Tampa Bay’s books for the few weeks that remain in the 2007 regular season. Since the incentive will not be reached before the ’07 regular season ends, the $10 million in total cap space would rollover to the 2008 season.

Now, the Bucs would just need to add a $4 million LTBE incentive to a new contract for , let's say quarterback Jeff Garcia, for let's say 30 touchdown passes in the 2007 season, and that is one of many ways the Bucs could rollover the $14 million in cap room they currently have to 2008.

Since the Bucs are attempting to rework several players’ deals they should have no problem rolling over close to all of the $14 million in cap room they currently have. It will just be a matter of which players’ contracts are used to roll the money over to next year.

Most teams were not able to take advantage of this rule for several years because of salary cap challenges, but the extension of the CBA in 2005 has made it more realistic for teams like the Buccaneers to rollover unused cap space to the following season.

Spending cap money just for the sake of spending it is a formula for disaster in the NFL. Just ask the San Francisco 49ers, who were one of the biggest spenders in free agency and currently have a 2-8 record and are in last place in the NFC West division.

The Bucs were wise spenders in 2007, and that strategy likely will pay off big in 2008.

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