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With Tampa Bay projected to be approximately $10-12 million over the NFL-mandated salary cap when the 2005 offseason rolls around, the Bucs will be hard pressed to keep quarterback Brian Griese around next season since he’s scheduled to receive a $6 million roster bonus that will bring his ’05 cap value to $8.133 million.
There’s almost no way the Bucs can keep Griese and his current contract. They’re already going to have about $2 million in dead cap room when they release or trade QB Brad Johnson during the offseason, so if they were to keep Griese’s contract the way it is and pay him the bonus, the Bucs would have over $10.5 million (including Johnson’s $2 million) dedicated to their quarterback position in ’05 — and that’s only including Griese and Simms as active members of the Buccaneers.
The Bucs are currently discussing whether to keep Griese, a move that would likely force them to give him a long-term contract extension that would include another big signing bonus.
Griese has completed 69.3 percent of his passes, thrown for 2,632 yards and tossed 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading the Bucs to a 5-6 record. But he’s struggled as of late, tossing 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) over the past seven contests. The Bucs are hoping those mistakes will reduce his value when they approach he and his agent during the offseason.
But even if Griese decides to sign a new deal for a reasonable price, it could hinder Tampa Bay’s ability to re-sign QB Chris Simms when his rookie contract expires at the end of the 2005 season, making him a restricted free agent. The Bucs have a 2003 third-round draft pick invested in Simms and they are very high on him, evidenced by the fact that he, not Griese, was named the starter in place of Johnson back in Week 5.
Should the Bucs decide to let Griese go and stick with Simms, they’ll have some options in terms of signing a veteran quarterback to compete with the former Texas Longhorn.
Believe it or not, one of those quarterbacks could be current Oakland Raider Rich Gannon, who has been sidelined most of the 2004 season with a broken vertebra in his neck. Ironically, he suffered that injury in Week 3 against Tampa Bay.
Gannon, 39, has not said whether he will retire or continue to play football. Should he decide to play, the Raiders will likely release him, and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, both of whom worked with Gannon in Oakland, would likely take a hard look at signing him as a backup to Simms.
Other possibilities include Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck and Detroit backup QB Mike McMahon, both of whom are familiar with the West Coast offense.
And with 11 selections in the 2005 NFL Draft, the Bucs will likely invest a draft pick on a quarterback. Louisville’s Stefan LeFors may remind Gruden of Ty Detmer, a player he coached while serving as an offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.
LeFors has the highest quarterback passer rating (185.5) of all-time in Div. I-A. That passer rating broke the mark (183.3) set in 1998 by former Tulane QB Shaun King. He tossed 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions during his senior season and the Cardinals led the nation in scoring with 50.7 points per game. Under LaFors, Louisville became the first team in NCAA history to score 55 or more points in five straight games.
While those numbers and the Cardinals’ 10-1 record in ’04 might suggest that LaFors would be a first-round draft pick in April, the left-handed signal caller’s 5-foot-11, 197-pound frame will likely make him available on the second day of the draft.
As PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds first cited in his most recent SR’s Fab Five column, Tampa Bay was interested in signing former Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson, who as a rookie with the Indiana Firebirds, took the Arena Football League by storm last year. McPherson completed 237-of-397 (59.7 percent) passes for 3,201 yards with 61 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The lightning quick McPherson, who runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, also rushed for 259 yards on 65 carries (4.0 avg.) and scored 19 touchdowns on the ground while earning 2004 AFL Rookie of the Year honors.
Gruden tried to sign McPherson this past summer, but NFL eligibility issues prevented him from signing with any team as the necessary paperwork was not submitted to the league. McPherson missed his chance for the 2004 draft or a supplement draft, but he will be eligible for the 2005 draft. With the Indiana franchise having folded after the 2004 season and McPherson not signing with the Predators or another AFL team, it looks like he will leap to the NFL in 2005.
Other quarterbacks the Bucs might consider drafting are Arkansas’ Matt Jones, Auburn’s Jason Campbell and Georgia’s David Green, who is another lefty and is the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback.
They may not want to do it, but letting Griese go during the offseason could go a long way for the Bucs in terms of helping to remedy their salary cap woes and giving Simms at shot at becoming the quarterback of the future.
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