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There's been a lot of talk regarding Tampa Bay's penchant for collecting quarterbacks. They have, after all, used seven draft picks to acquire seven different quarterbacks during head coach Jon Gruden's first seven years in Tampa Bay.
But how the competition between Tampa Bay's current group of quarterbacks will wind up remains an intriguing topic.
Last week, the Buccaneers had seven quarterbacks on their roster. However, the team released QB Bruce Gradkowski last Friday and QB Jake Plummer remains retired, which has Tampa Bay down to five signal callers.
Why did the Bucs release Gradkowski, who was claimed off of waivers by the St. Louis Rams this week, instead of Chris Simms, who hasn't shown that he's fully recovered from a spleen injury he suffered nearly two years ago?
The Bucs basically had more invested in Simms, who entered the NFL as a 2003 third-round pick out of Texas. Simms has started 15 of the 19 games he's played in as a Buccaneer and completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 3,087 yards and tossed 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Gradkowski was Tampa Bay's sixth-round draft pick in 2006. He started 11 of the 17 games he played in as a Buc, completing 54 percent of his passes for 1,791 yards and tossing nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The Bucs also invested a two-year contract extension that included a $3 million signing bonus in Simms in December of 2006. With $29 million in salary cap room, the Bucs can afford to hang onto Simms, who turns 28 in August.
Simms has elected to skip voluntary workouts with the Bucs because he does not believe he has a future with the team. He's hoping he gets released or is traded.
He likely will get his wish, but it might not be as early as Simms hopes. Still, Simms likely will suffer a similar fate as Gradkowski since Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese and Luke McCown are on Tampa Bay's roster, and the Bucs invested a fifth-round pick in QB Josh Johnson in April.
Unless an injury occurs, Simms likely will be released or traded during training camp or the preseason. It looks as though Johnson is in a redshirt year, which is probably a good idea for a team that is hoping to play in a Super Bowl in 2009.
So how will it play out with Tampa Bay's other signal callers?
Garcia is the established starter, but he's 38 years old and unhappy with his current contract, which has one year remaining on it and is scheduled to pay him a $2 million base salary with up to $2.5 million in unlikely to be earned incentives that can be reached.
Garcia wants a new contract and deserves to be paid more. He's vented through the media twice about it this offseason, and he recently suggested in a radio interview that he would consider retiring if he did not get a new deal from the Bucs.
If Garcia was talking about retiring before the 2008 season begins, that probably wouldn't be a good idea, as it would prompt the Bucs to file a grievance against him in an effort to recover half of Garcia's $3 million signing bonus for retiring unilaterally.
If Simms doesn't report to mandatory mini-camp, the Bucs will attempt to do the same thing with him in terms of filing a grievance to recover signing bonus money.
Although it's unlikely, should Garcia hold out or retire and Simms not report to mandatory mini-camp in two weeks, the Buccaneers could have grievances filed against three of their quarterbacks with the opportunity to recover a total of $10 million by the time the 2008 regular season begins.
That's a lot of money, but that scenario wouldn't be ideal for any of the parties involved. Plummer can attest to this as the Bucs and Broncos are attempting to get $7 million worth of bonus money from Plummer for retiring. The hearing is scheduled to be held this month.
Perhaps Garcia's demand for a new contract is one of the reasons why the Bucs traded for Griese this offseason.
Griese has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 18,367 yards and tossed 114 touchdowns and 88 interceptions since entering the NFL with Denver in 1998.
Griese owns a 42-36 overall record as an NFL starter, and he played fairly well for the Buccaneers from 2004-05. Gruden still views Griese as a player that could solidify Tampa Bay's quarterback positon for years to come. Griese is 33, which is the same age Rich Gannon was when he joined Gruden in Oakland.
Griese completed 345-of-510 (67.6 percent) of his passes for 3,768 yards and tossed 27 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 16 total starts for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay loves Garcia's competitive streak, playmaking ability and leadership, but it would feel comfortable going into the 2008 season with Griese as its starter if Garcia opted to retire or hold out. There's even the thought that Griese was brought to Tampa Bay to be more than a backup. He's considered a viable starting option.
Griese completed a career-high 69.3 percent of his passes for 2,632 and tossed 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his Buccaneer debut in 2004. He put up those numbers when Joey Galloway wasn't healthy and Michael Clayton was a rookie. Tampa Bay's ground attack also ranked 29th in the NFL that year.
Garcia completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,440 yards and tossed 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in his Bucs debut last season. The Bucs implemented the shotgun formation last year, and their improved offensive line and 11th-ranked ground attack played an integral role in Garcia's success. Garcia started all 13 of the regular season games he played in en route to being voted a Pro Bowl alternate and playing in Hawaii.
When comparing their Buccaneer debuts, Griese actually outperformed Garcia in terms of completion percentage, pass yards and touchdowns thrown. Garcia owns an 8-6 overall record as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback. Griese posted a 9-7 record as the Bucs' starter in his previous stint with the team.
While Griese's numbers were better than Garcia's when comparing their debuts, Garcia is the more mobile signal caller and he's a good caretaker, evidenced by the four picks he threw last year. Garcia is also considered a great leader. Griese is younger and has the stronger arm.
If Garcia decides to continue to participate in both voluntary and mandatory workouts he likely will be Tampa Bay's starter in 2008.
The competition behind Garcia will be an interesting one to say the least as Griese and McCown are vying for the No. 2 job. Ironically, two of the seven draft picks the Bucs have used on quarterbacks under Gruden were used to acquire both signal callers in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
Griese is under contract through the 2010 season and is scheduled to earn $1.4 million in base salary this year. McCown will earn $605,000 this season, which is scheduled to be his final one as a Buccaneer.
Given the fact that Gruden never wanted to release Griese in a salary cap maneuver during the 2006 offseason and the Bucs used a draft pick to get him back this year, Griese probably is the favorite to beat out McCown as Garcia's backup.
"I feel good about the position. We have a really good mix," Bucs quarterbacks coach Greg Olson said. "A young player that we're hoping won't have to play right away in Josh. We're still hoping to bring Luke along. This will be a big year I think for Luke McCown. But Jeff Garcia is our starter. Brian Griese has proven that he can play and win in this league, and I think those two guys, probably I'd say, Jon has a tremendous amount of confidence in those two guys at this point. Hopefully that will carry over into training camp and we'll start the season out with those two guys, but it's a great mix of players, veterans and some young players that are still learning, and they got two great veterans to learn from so I'm excited about the group overall."
Olson's comments suggest the Bucs view both Garcia and Griese as starting-caliber quarterbacks.
But McCown apparently isn't going down without a fight. After completing 94-of-139 (67.6 percent) of his passes for 1,009 yards and five touchdowns and three interceptions and rushing for 110 yards (9.8 avg.) in place of Garcia last season, McCown, 26, has looked sharp this offseason.
However, McCown's overall book of work isn't as impressive as Griese's. McCown's overall record as a starter in the NFL is just 1-6. He's completed 142-of-237 (59.9 percent) of his career passes for nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
But McCown, who is 1-3 as a starter in Tampa Bay, put the Bucs in position to win games against Houston, San Francisco and Carolina. And in the final two games of the regular season McCown was playing with mostly backups, not starters.
Both Griese and McCown have a reputation for making few mistakes, but the mistakes they make in games too often result in turnovers or points for opposing teams. The player that eliminates those types of mistakes from their game first not only will win the No. 2 job behind Garcia, but could also be anointed Tampa Bay's quarterback of the future as early as 2009.
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