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The uncertainly surrounding Tampa Bay’s quarterback position became a little clearer late last week when it became public knowledge that Chris Simms was going to pass up the opportunity to test the free agent market in March and sign a two-year contract extension with the Buccaneers.
With Simms under contract in 2007, the Bucs will bring Simms, Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski into training camp next year. Having Simms in their plans for 2007 also means it’s unlikely that the Bucs would invest a first-day draft pick in a quarterback like Brady Quinn unless Tampa Bay were to fire head coach Jon Gruden and replace him with Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, a scenario that appears to be unlikely at the moment.
But unlike the 2006 season, Simms will not be guaranteed anything on the football field in 2007.
Simms, 26, was wise to sign an extension with Tampa Bay. He’s coming of a season that saw him throw one touchdown and seven interceptions while going 0-3 as a starter before rupturing his spleen in Week 3 vs. Carolina.
Despite his disappointing outing as the undisputed starter in ’06, Simms is still viewed as a quarterback with potential. That’s why the Bucs were willing to give him a contract extension that included $5 million in guaranteed money along with escalators and incentives that could make the deal worth as much as $14.5 million.
The Bucs were also smart to sign Simms to the deal. All it would have taken was Simms hitting the free agent market and a team like Cleveland, Carolina, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Minnesota or the New York Jets willing to overpay for Simms to lure him away from Tampa Bay.
That was a scenario the Bucs could ill afford seeing as Tim Rattay is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007 and McCown and Gradkowski were the only two signal callers under contract for next season before Simms inked the new deal.
Simms has a strong arm and great size (6-4, 220), but some don’t believe he’s a good fit for Gruden’s West Coast system. The pocket passer has had too many passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and probably would benefit from an offense that uses the shotgun formation, something Gruden has resisted implementing in Oakland and Tampa Bay.
But the Bucs still believe Simms has upside and the team has tremendous value in the fact that the 2003 third-round pick has a thorough understanding of Gruden’s system, something McCown and Gradkowski do not have at this point in their young careers.
The Bucs have bought themselves another two years to evaluate Simms, something they were attempting to do this season before he was lost for the year due to the Splenectomy.
But the only way Simms will realize the true potential of his two-year contract extension is by winning the starting job and posting good to superb numbers.
Before he can even worry about posting numbers, Simms must first concern himself with getting on the football field in 2007. That’s because Tampa Bay likely will still pursue a veteran signal caller once free agency starts in March.
At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be too many capable, veteran quarterbacks headed for free agency in ’07. The available candidates could include Drew Bledsoe (Dallas), Mark Brunell (Washington), Trent Green (Kansas City), Brett Favre (Green Bay), Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville), Jake Plummer (Denver) and Kurt Warner (Arizona).
But with the exception of Green and Favre, all of those quarterbacks are currently sitting the bench with their respective teams, and for good reason. They just weren’t producing, and production is exactly what Gruden and the Bucs need from the quarterback position next year.
There is one quarterback that has been quite productive over the past several weeks and fits the description of a productive NFL quarterback. He plays in Philadelphia and wears jersey number 7.
He’s Jeff Garcia, and if his name sound familiar, it should. The Bucs have, after all, seriously attempted to sign Garcia twice over the past three seasons, but to no avail.
Many thought the Philadelphia Eagles were finished when starting QB Donovan McNabb was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Instead, Garcia has led Philadelphia to the playoffs and has the Eagles in position to possibly win the NFC East division.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Garcia has started five of the seven games he’s played in as an Eagle, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 1,280 yards and tossing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Those are impressive numbers, and they’re no fluke. Garcia has had a pretty impressive career, starting with his five-year tenure in the Canadian Football League, where the undrafted free agent went to play in 1994 when no one in the NFL was willing to give him a shot.
Garcia put up impressive numbers in five seasons (1994-98) with Calgary, completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 16,425 yards and tossing 111 touchdowns. He also rushed for 2,367 yards and 24 touchdowns.
In addition, Garcia established himself as one of the CFL’s all-time best by leading the Stampeders to the Greg Cup Championship while being named MVP of the Grey Cup in 1998.
Garcia finally landed in the NFL with San Francisco in 1999. He has started 91 of the 98 career games he’s played in the NFL, completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 20,356 yards and tossing 20,356 yards and 136 touchdowns and 73 interceptions. He’s also displayed impressive mobility and playmaking ability with his feet, evidenced by his 1,878 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns via the ground game.
The Bucs attempted to sign Garcia when he was released by the 49ers during the 2004 offseason. But the cap-strapped Bucs could only offer him a one-year contract worth league minimum. While Garcia expressed enough interest in playing for the Bucs that he flew himself to Tampa Bay to meet with Gruden and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, that contract offer wasn’t enough to convince him to sign and compete with Brad Johnson for the starting job. Instead, Garcia signed a long-term, lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns.
That stint was short-lived as Cleveland and Garcia parted ways during the 2005 offseason. With Garcia available in free agency again, Tampa Bay once again made a play for his services. But Garica liked his chances of earning a starting job in Detroit as opposed to Tampa Bay, so the Bucs missed out on him for the second straight year.
Like his stint with Cleveland, Garcia’s experience in Detroit was short-lived. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 937 yards and tossed three touchdowns and six interceptions in 2005 and was released during the ’06 offseason.
After coming off of sub-par outings with Cleveland and Detroit, teams showed little interest in signing Garcia last offseason. Perhaps Garcia’s most disturbing career stat is his fumble total, which is 48 and counting since 1999. Even Tampa Bay’s interest dwindled enough to convince Garcia to sign a one-year contract with Philadelphia.
According to The Mercury News, Garcia's one-year contract included a base salary of $710,000, workout bonuses worth another $510,00 and $1.65 million in other bonuses. In fact, Garcia could make as much as $2.87 million with the Eagles making the playoffs, which is why the Bucs still couldn't afford to sign him during the offseason.
With Garcia playing so well for the Eagles, some don’t believe Philadelphia will let him hit the free agent market in March, especially since McNabb’s injured knee could keep him sidelined for part of the ’07 season.
However, the fact that McNabb will earn $5.5 million in base salary as the Eagles’ starting quarterback likely means they can’t afford to re-sign Garcia, who probably wouldn’t be interested in returning to Philly in a backup role.
Garcia would be wise to test the free agent waters as several teams, including Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay, are in need of a veteran quarterback with his credentials.
The Bucs are scheduled to be $25-million plus under the salary cap when free agency starts in ’07, and despite his impressive numbers and outing in Philadelphia, Garcia probably would not command that big of a contract.
Garcia is a journeyman-type quarterback and turns 37 in February. His two poor outings in Cleveland and Detroit likely will come to mind for any team that considers signing Garcia to a long-term, lucrative contract.
But Tampa Bay might have an advantage over any of the teams that would be interested in signing him seeing as the Bucs came close to signing him twice before, and the fact that the Bucs have a starting job open for competition in 2007.
Competition is exactly what Tampa Bay needs as its quarterback position was sorely lacking it in 2006, which likely contributed to Simms’ poor start to the season.
Garcia is well versed in the West Coast offense. In fact, most of his success in the NFL came in San Francisco and Philadelphia, both of which operated out of that type of offensive system when Garcia played for those respective teams.
Gruden loves a project at quarterback, and Garcia could certainly be worth the investment. There are some interesting similarities between Garcia and Rich Gannon, who like Garcia, was a journeyman quarterback before becoming one of the league’s best quarterbacks under the guidance of Gruden in Oakland. Like Gannon, Garcia is intelligent and mobile, and he’s a pretty fiery and durable player that could serve as a good leader on the offensive side of the ball.
And if Simms managed to beat out Garcia out for the starting job, the veteran signal caller would be a valuable back up for Gruden, who has gone through quarterbacks like a man goes through socks since 2004. He’d also be a good mentor for Simms and Gradkowski, and who knows – maybe the addition of Garcia would finally convince Gruden to implement the shotgun, a formation all three signal callers have thrived in at one point in time during their football playing days.
The Bucs have made two serious runs at signing Garcia, but neither one of those attempts paid off. Will the third time finally be the charm?
If Garcia hits the free agent market, which is expected to happen, the Bucs have the means to make him a Buc this time around, which in turn would help bolster their quarterback position in 2007.
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