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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't report to Celebration Hotel for the start of training camp until Friday, but the team is very much in the news.
The Green Bay Packers are actively shopping retired quarterback Brett Favre, who wishes to come out of retirement and play football again in 2008. Among the teams believed to be interested in possibly acquiring Favre are the Buccaneers.
Those rumors have picked up some serious steam this week, particularly when Bucs QB Chris Simms told the St. Petersburg Times that general manager Bruce Allen had asked him about Favre and whether or not he believed Favre could come to Tampa Bay and learn head coach Jon Gruden's offense in training camp while receiving a limited number of reps.
The Bucs, of course, have not said much publicly regarding Favre for fear of having tampering charges brought against them by the Packers, who own the future Hall of Famer's rights.
However, there has been quite a bit of discussion behind the scenes regarding Favre at One Buccaneer Place. No one should be surprised about Allen asking Simms what he thought about Favre possibly coming to Tampa Bay. Allen is notorious for gathering information and gaining perspective before making decisions, and has even gone as far as asking team janitors what they think about players and plays.
In addition to Simms' recent comments, Favre is being linked to Tampa Bay for several other reasons.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden worked with Favre in Green Bay as an offensive assistant (1992) and as the team's wide receivers coach (1993-94). Gruden even picked up Favre from the airport when Atlanta traded him to Green Bay in '92.
League sources tell Pewter Report that Tampa Bay is one of only a few teams that has the salary cap room to take on Favre's contract, which has two years remaining on it and is scheduled to pay him a base salary of $12 million in 2008. The Packers won't deal Favre to a NFC North team, but the Bucs might be a different story even though they are an NFC team and are scheduled to host the Packers in Week 4.
Favre also wants to play for a Super Bowl contender, and Tampa Bay would appear to fit that description coming off of a 2007 NFC South division title and playoff appearance. He also wishes to play somewhere close to Mississippi, and Tampa isn't far from it.
The Bucs haven't entered a season with the same starting quarterback from the previous year since 2003-04 when Brad Johnson was the team's signal caller.
It looked as though that dreadful streak would come to an end after QB Jeff Garcia made the Pro Bowl in his Buccaneer debut and entered the 2008 offseason as the undisputed starter. But all of the reports and rumors regarding Favre have cast a shadow of doubt over that potential feat.
Favre, 38, is a three-time league MVP and Super Bowl winner. He owns records for most career touchdowns (442), most career passing yards (61,655), most career completions (5,377) and most consecutive starts (275 including the playoffs).
The Bucs are intrigued by the possibility of having Favre, but there are potential hurdles that must be overcome, including compensation and whether Favre could be effective.
If Tampa Bay were to trade for Favre and the compensation involved a draft pick(s), he would be the eighth quarterback the Bucs will have acquired with a draft pick in Gruden's seven seasons with the Buccaneers.
It wouldn't be the first time the Buccaneers traded for a retired quarterback, either. Last year, Tampa Bay traded a conditional draft pick to Denver in exchange for QB Jake Plummer despite the fact that he had just retired.
Had Plummer played, Tampa Bay would have owed Denver a fourth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. But Plummer never came out of retirement, so the Bucs only had to send the Broncos a seventh-round selection.
If Plummer was worth a fourth-round pick, what would the Bucs be willing to surrender to the Packers in exchange for Favre? The guess here is at least a second-round draft pick.
League sources have also indicated to Pewter Report that that Favre should be able to pick up Gruden's playbook and execute it rather quickly, 4-6 weeks to be exact.
That's because Favre played and thrived in a similar West Coast offensive system under former Packers head coach and current Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who mentored Gruden.
Gruden's track record with veteran quarterbacks seems to support the notion that Favre could successfully execute Gruden's playbook rather quickly.
In Oakland, QB Rich Gannon played quite well in his first season with Gruden and the Raiders in 1998, completing 59 percent of his passes for 3,840 yards and tossing 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Despite the fact that it was his first year in Gruden's system back in 2002, former Bucs QB Brad Johnson excelled in the offense, completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,409 yards and tossing 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions en route to helping Tampa Bay defeat Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII and making the Pro Bowl.
Journeyman QB Brian Griese turned in one of the best years of his pro career in his first year in Gruden's offense. He completed a career-high 69.3 percent of his passes for 2,632 yards and threw 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2004.
Of course, Johnson wasn't the first quarterback to make the Pro Bowl in his debut in Gruden's offense. Last year, Garcia completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,440 yards and threw 13 touchdown and just four interceptions en route to being voted a Pro Bowl alternate and playing in Hawaii.
While Favre's age (38) certainly is relevant, no one should assume it's being viewed as a negative at One Buc Place. Remember – Gannon led the Raiders to the Super Bowl at the age of 37, and Johnson was 34 back in 2002. And of course, Garcia was 37 when he made the Pro Bowl with the Bucs last season.
One of the reasons why the Bucs have made a habit of collecting quarterbacks is because of the plethora of injuries the team has suffered at that position. Favre has proven to be one of the most durable players in NFL history, having not missed a game since 1992. To put that in perspective, Garcia missed three games last season, two of which were due to injury, and Simms has played in just three games over the past two seasons due to an unfortunate spleen injury.
The Bucs did not have a Pro Bowl offensive player last year until Garcia was voted in as an alternate. Although a few players, namely wide receiver Joey Galloway, are the exception, Gruden's offense has lacked playmakers. What better evidence to support this sentiment than the fact that the Bucs have never overcome a deficit of more than seven points in a game since Gruden's arrival in 2002? Favre has made a name for himself with the fourth quarterback comebacks he has under his belt.
Even in his worst season, Favre has been better than the majority of the league's signal callers. Even though he's 38, Favre turned in an impressive season in 2007 and he still has superb arm strength, whereas Garcia's might be fading.
Garcia, on the other hand, is more mobile than Favre, which could mean less bootleg calls from Gruden if Favre were the team's starting quarterback. However, the Bucs feel their current offensive line is the best the team has ever had in Tampa Bay. And even if protection were to break down, Favre still is mobile enough to move around and make things happen in the passing game. Favre was sacked just 15 times during the 2007 regular season.
Garcia was a good caretaker of the ball last year, tossing just four interceptions, three of which came in one game in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Favre, who has 288 career interceptions, can sometimes trust his arm too much, which often times leads to costly turnovers.
Favre has thrown 20-plus interceptions in a season five different times, including a career-high 29 picks in 2005. As of right now, Favre's final NFL throw was intercepted by a Giants defender, and that turnover set up New York's game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game to send the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Still, Favre put up some impressive numbers even when he had very little talent to work with at wide receiver in Green Bay for several seasons. The Buccaneers appear to be determined to run the football with even more success in 2008. Opposing defenses likely would respect Favre's presence and ability to throw the football quite a bit, which could really open things up for the Bucs running game and actually take some pressure off of Favre, just as it did last year in Green Bay.
With a solid ground game established, Favre completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 4,155 yards and tossed 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions en route to leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.
Tampa Bay might not have even explored the possibility of trading for Favre had it been successful in signing Garcia to a long-term contract during the offseason.
Garcia, who received a $3 million signing bonus as part of a two-year contract that paid him $2 million in base salary last year, made it clear earlier in the offseason that he was unhappy with his current contract and felt he deserved a raise that paid him like a starting NFL signal caller. He also expects the Bucs to take care of him from a contract standpoint since Tampa Bay's decision to rest Garcia towards the end of the 2007 season cost the quarterback approximately $1 million in unlikely-to-be-earned incentives.
But don't believe the rumors that suggest Tampa Bay's plan all along was to not sign Garcia and instead wait to see what happened with Favre. The Bucs have offered Garcia several different contracts since January, but the two sides have not been able to agree on Garcia's value.
While Allen has deferred all questions regarding Favre to the Packers, he and the Bucs certainly have not went out of their way to put water on the burning Favre rumors.
Given the lack of progress made regarding Garcia's contract, it's possible that Allen and the Buccaneers are using – or possibly even fueling – the Favre-to-Tampa Bay rumors as leverage against Garcia. But as of right now that's merely speculation on our part.
If Green Bay winds up striking a deal with Tampa Bay and sending Favre to the Buccaneers, what would it ultimately mean for Garcia?
Well, the Bucs would ideally like to keep Garcia. He has proven to be a valuable backup, evidenced by his impressive performance in relief of Eagles QB Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia in 2006.
Money certainly wouldn't be an issue as the Bucs could justify Garcia's current base salary of $2 million, even if he was the No. 2 signal caller. The Bucs did, after all, ink Garcia to that deal when it planned to have he and Simms compete for the starting job during the 2007 offseason.
Garcia's fate could depend on how he would handle the arrival of Favre. If he became a disgruntled player and voiced his displeasure with the situation, the Bucs could be forced to either trade or release him. However, Garcia could find it difficult to land a starting job or starting-type wage elsewhere in the NFL so late into the calendar year, meaning his best option could be to remain in Tampa Bay.
If Garcia were released or traded, there's no telling how his Buccaneer teammates would react, either. Garcia is respected in the Bucs locker room and is considered a fiery leader. Tampa Bay's locker room was tight last year, but it's unclear how Garcia's departure and Favre's presence would impact the team camaraderie.
Tampa Bay currently has five quarterbacks on its roster, so if the team did acquire Favre, one signal caller would likely have to go. If it's not Garcia, which player(s) would it be?
Although the Bucs intend on having him compete for a roster spot at training camp, Simms' days in Tampa Bay appear to be numbered.
The Bucs are anxious to see how Luke McCown fares at quarterback after last year's experience and given the fact that he's in a contract year. The team still believes he might be their quarterback of the future.
Tampa Bay invested a fifth-round draft pick in QB Josh Johnson in April, but it views him as a long-term project. League sources have suggested to Pewter Report that the Bucs are attempting to structure Johnson's rookie contract in an unconventional manner.
Johnson's contract could include a small signing bonus, or no signing bonus at all, and instead have a frontloaded roster bonus that would make it difficult for other NFL teams to claim Johnson off of waivers, which could be a sign that the Bucs intend to waive Johnson and sneak him onto their practice squad at some point, possibly when running back Cadillac Williams potentially could return to duty from the physically unable to perform list in October. By then, no teams would really be looking to clear a 53-man roster spot for a Div. I-AA rookie quarterback.
That means Griese could be the odd man out should the Bucs trade for Favre and decide to keep Garcia as well. Griese could even be part of a trade that also involves a draft pick(s) for Favre.
Then again, knowing the Bucs and their penchant for collecting quarterbacks, there's always the possibility that Tampa Bay would keep six signal callers on its roster through training camp and most of the preseason.
Tampa Bay's internal goal is to become the first team ever in the NFL to play a Super Bowl at home. The Bucs have the opportunity to do that this year as the Super Bowl is being played at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 1, 2009.
As of right now, the Bucs are attempting to figure out whether Favre gives them the best chance of accomplishing that feat.
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