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Several Bucs players are in the final year of their contracts, including quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Chris Simms, running back Earnest Graham, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, fullback B.J. Askew, among others.
One of those players, Garcia, has already gone on record as being frustrated by the fact that Tampa Bay has not yet extended his contract.
"You could say that [it's frustrating]," Garcia told the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday. "Talks haven't necessarily gone all that good.
"So in a way, it's disappointing. At this point in my career, I'm no longer 24 or 25 saying, ‘I'm going to prove to you I deserve this.' I feel like I've proved throughout my career. And I feel like at this time, it's time to just work with me, and you know what I bring to the team. You know what I've done for the team, and you know how much more I can do. And now I have a year under the system."
Garcia completed 209-of-327 (63.9 percent) of his passes for 2,440 yards and tossed 13 touchdowns and four interceptions en route to making the Pro Bowl in his Buccaneer debut in 2007.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound signal caller signed a two-year contract with Tampa Bay last year that paid him a $3 million signing bonus and $2 million base salary last year.
Garcia also had the opportunity to trigger up to $2.5 million in not-likely-to-be-earned incentives in his contract that were mostly tied to playing time, but that didn't happen due in large part to Tampa Bay's decision to rest him down the stretch after the Bucs had already clinched the NFC South division and a playoff berth.
While he was rested for the second half of the game vs. San Francisco and the regular season finale vs. Carolina, Garcia missed parts of the games vs. Seattle and Washington, and completely missed contests vs. New Orleans and Houston, due to injury, which would have prevented him from earning the entire amount of $2.5 million in NLTBE incentives.
However, Garcia did miss out on at least $1 million in NLTBE incentives due to Tampa Bay's decision to rest him in the second half vs. San Francisco and the Week 17 contest vs. Carolina. Needless to say, that's not sitting well with Tampa Bay's starting signal caller.
"There are issues that Jeff is justifiably frustrated about," Garcia's agent Steve Baker told Pewter Report. "They include promises that were made that at present have not been addressed. He will honor his contract, will continue to try to resolve these issues and hope to build on last year's success."
No one outside of Garcia's camp and One Buc Place knows for sure what kind of promises were made to Garcia, but it's probably reasonable to believe Tampa Bay suggested to Garcia toward the end of last year that it would take care of his contract this year. The fact that the two sides haven't agreed to terms yet technically means the Bucs haven't delivered on that promise, or at least one of them anyway.
But the Bucs, who entered free agency with $43 million in salary cap room, have made their intention of extending players' contracts, including that of Garcia's, known since January.
"Part of the plan for several years now was to put ourselves in position to not only acquire some free agents this offseason, but to be able to retain our own players," Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said earlier in the offseason. "We're looking at our roster and having dialogue with our current players about extending some of our players into the future to make sure that the Bucs are going to be in good position for years to come."
With approximately $25 million in salary cap room still available and Tampa Bay having already spent the NFL-mandated minimum cap amount for 2008, the perception could be that the Buccaneers are being cheap and trying to nickel and dime their own players.
However, some simple facts dispel this notion, including Tampa Bay's decision to have wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard play long enough in Week 16 vs. San Francisco to ensure they trigger a playing time portion of their own NLTBE incentives of $900,000 and $750,000, respectively.
The Buccaneers also made Jeff Faine the highest-paid center in the NFL in February by signing him to a six-year, $37.5 million contract.
The Bucs want to get a deal for Garcia done, but they're not in too big of a hurry. They might even wait to see if they come away with a quarterback in the 2008 NFL Draft before deciding how much more money they should throw Garcia's way.
If a player like Louisville QB Brian Brohm slips to Tampa Bay at No. 20 overall and is drafted by the Bucs in the first round the team might simply elect to sign Garcia to a one-year extension. If Tampa Bay does not come out of the 2008 NFL Draft with a quarterback it could choose to sign Garcia to a multi-year deal.
Even if Garcia plays out the final year of his deal he still has the opportunity to earn much more than $2 million in base salary. He was already paid a $750,000 roster bonus in March and has $2.5 million in NLTBE incentives that he could possibly trigger during the 2008 regular season.
Although he is underpaid by NFL standards as far as average starting quarterback salaries are concerned, Garcia still is in the top 10 in terms of highest-paid Bucs.
Garcia's earnings (base salary and roster bonus combined) fall just short of those of 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks and four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber, each of who are scheduled to earn $3 million in 2008. Garcia would actually surpass both Brooks and Barber in earnings if he triggers at least $400,000 of his $2.5 million NLTBE incentives in ‘08.
Still, when healthy, Garcia showed how valuable he was to Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden's offense as a playmaker and the Bucs locker room as a leader, meaning he's probably worthy of being in the top five in terms of highest-paid Buccaneer players.
But what exactly is Garcia worth? Well, that's subjective and all depends on the eye of the beholder.
No one outside of Garcia's camp and Tampa Bay's front office knows what Garcia is asking for, which is certainly relevant to this story since it ultimately takes two sides to come to terms on a deal.
What if, for instance, Garcia was demanding Jaguars quarterback David Garrard-type money (reportedly a six-year deal worth nearly $60 million)? Well, if that were the case one could understand Tampa Bay's hesitation to ink Garcia, 38, to such a long-term, lucrative deal.
What Garcia deserves to be paid is a subject up for debate. However, what one would likely be hard pressed to argue is the belief that Garcia does in fact deserve a pay raise, He does.
That's evidenced by not only his play last year, but also Chris Simms, who hasn't been healthy due to a spleen injury for nearly two years and is scheduled to earn the same base salary as Garcia this year, and, of course, Jake Plummer, who remains retired, yet is scheduled to earn $5.3 million in base salary should he decide to play for the Bucs in 2008.
Tampa Bay's ongoing negotiations with Baker should be enough evidence to suggest the Buccaneers are serious about wanting to reward Garcia with a new contract.
Now, what Garcia believes he's actually worth and what the Bucs are actually willing to pay him is something the two sides clearly are not in agreement on. They'll ultimately have to figure that out.
The good news is they have time to come to terms on a contract that is fair to both Garcia and the Buccaneers.
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