Less than 24 hours after it appeared Tampa Bay’s attempt to acquire a quarterback had fallen through, the Buccaneers landed both of the veteran signal callers on their radar, signing Philadelphia unrestricted free agent Jeff Garcia and trading for Denver’s Jake Plummer.

Garcia signed a two-year contract with the Bucs. Financial terms weren’t immediately available, but ESPN reported that the deal is worth about $5 million per year.

Immediately after Garcia signed his contract with Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers executed the trade for Plummer, which sent an conditional 2008 draft pick to Denver in exchange for the veteran signal caller’s rights.

However, there’s no guarantee Plummer, who has a base salary of $5.3 million in 2007 and is under contract through 2009, will ever suit up as a Buccaneer. He’s currently contemplating retirement.

But even if Plummer decides to play for the Bucs, Garcia is looking forward to competing with him and Tampa Bay’s other quarterbacks, including Chris Simms, who signed a two-year contract extension in December, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown.

“I think that opportunity may be presented,” Garcia said when asked if he was Tampa Bay’s starting signal caller. “I signed here to compete. Nothing is handed to me, and I don’t want it to be handed to me. I expect to learn and give my best. Hopefully my best presents itself in a situation where I am the starter. I do want to start, and I believe I can start and contribute to this team. But I don’t expect it to come without competition. Competition is healthy. Even if Jake Plummer showed up here after I leave, I welcome it. It’s not a situation I’m fearful of or a situation I’d shy away from.”

According to Garcia, the Bucs did not guarantee him the starting job in Tampa Bay. They merely offered him a contract and the opportunity to compete for the job.

“It’s a wide open competition,’ said Garcia. “Not at all was I told I’d be the starter or anything like that. There are already other quarterbacks within this locker room that have started games. I don’t believe there’s truly an anointed starter right now, and if anybody has a lead on that it would be Chris [Simms]. I mean, he’s the guy that’s started the most games over the last couple of years. It’s a situation where I feel like there’s an opportunity there if I come out and present the way I know I’m capable of presenting.”

Regardless of whether he wins the starting job, Garcia feels his presence alone in Tampa Bay can help the team’s younger quarterbacks.  

“Chris Simms has had some opportunities on the field where he’s done some great things,” said Garcia. “There are some things he’s still learning to do, too. That’s why I think in so many ways I can be such a positive influence on him and Bruce [Gradkowski]. He’s a young kid and he’s very motivated. He has a drive in himself that somewhat reminds me of himself,”

Tampa Bay has attempted to sign Garcia over the past three offseasons, but to no avail. The cap-strapped Bucs couldn’t afford to sign Garcia, who received more lucrative contracts from Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia, respectively.

But after entering this offseason with $24 million to spend, the Bucs managed to sign Garcia on Saturday.

“Many of you know of our attraction to Jeff over the years,” Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said of Garcia. “What he did this year for the Eagles really demonstrated what kind of teammate and player he is today. We really feel like he’s going to complement our organization and the players we have on this team.”

Garcia, 37, is coming off an impressive stint with Philadelphia, where he completed 116-of-188 (61.7 percent) passes for 1,309 yards and tossed 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in eight games (six starts). Garcia played well in place of injured QB Donovan McNabb and led the Eagles to the NFC East division title and playoffs after a 5-5 start under McNabb.

Garcia has started 92 of the 99 career regular games he’s played in since entering the NFL in 1999 with San Francisco 49ers. He’s completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 20,385 yards and tossed 136 touchdowns and 73 interceptions.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Garcia, who had a brilliant career in the Canadian Football League before entering the NFL in ‘99, has also displayed impressive mobility and playmaking ability with his feet, evidenced by his 1,878 yards and 24 touchdowns via the ground game.

With Bucs head coach Jon Gruden losing his starting quarterback to injury in each of his five seasons in Tampa Bay, including the loss of Simms (Splenectomy) and McCown (knee) for the majority of 2006 season, the team entered free agency determined to upgrade the quarterback position.

When free agency began on Friday morning, Tampa Bay contacted Garcia’s agent, Steve Baker, but Garcia had already scheduled a visit to Oakland, where contract negotiations took place until they hit a snag on Friday evening.

“We contacted Jeff at 12:02 a.m. on free agency,” said Allen. “We learned that he was going to dinner with the Raiders front office that night. Otherwise, we would have brought him out on a red eye flight. He met with them. He would have flown in on an early morning flight yesterday but he agreed to come back and meet with them for seven or eight hours yesterday. The first time to get him here was on the red eye last night.”

In addition to Oakland being in the market for a quarterback, Garcia was intrigued by the possibility of returning to his home state of California to play football. But in the end, the Raiders, who finished the 2006 season with a 2-12 record, weren’t the team Garcia wanted to play for the most.

“Oakland is coming off of some tough times,” said Garcia. “They have some things they need to do to turn that thing around. I was honest with Coach [Lane] Kiffin when I said that if Oakland wasn’t in Oakland and in any other city other than California, I probably wouldn’t have been visiting with an open mind. I probably wouldn’t have been visiting at all. I visited Oakland because it was a chance for me to potentially return home.”

That wasn’t the first time Garcia visited with Oakland. After his career in the CFL ended, Garcia’s first workout in the NFL was for Gruden, who at that time was the head coach of the Raiders.

Gruden gave him a workout, but didn’t really consider signing him. In fact, Gruden didn’t even watch film on Garcia before he came in to Oakland for the workout, which turned out to be a mistake. That’s something Gruden apologized for when their paths crossed a few years later.

“I’m not going to impress you with an individual workout,” said Garcia. “I’m not going to go out there and just light your world on fire. You have to look at my play in the heat of the battle. You have to see how I play in the game. Coach Gruden was honest with me when we met a few years later and he said he didn’t watch any film on me before my workout. It was a cold, sloppy day, and it was my first experience working out with an NFL team. After that I knew what to expect personally, and I moved on and played for four other teams. Ever since then I know Coach Gruden knows what I can do as a player.”

Of course, Garcia returned the favor over the past three offseasons by opting to sign with Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia, and not Tampa Bay. However, Garcia said his desire to play for Gruden has always been one of the main things that attracted him to the Buccaneers. In fact, Garcia came close to turning down a five-year, $25 million contract with the Browns to sign with the Buccaneers for close to league minimum in 2004.

“At the time, Cleveland was acknowledging what I was worth and Tampa wasn’t quite in a financial position to put that out there,” Garcia recalled. “I just felt that there was such a great difference between the two offers that for my own welfare and future it just didn’t quite match up.

“But I was inches and moments away from signing that deal without even knowing the difference in price because of the way Coach Gruden is and because of the way Coach Gruden captivates me and gets me excited as far as being a player is concerned. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out then because I had some tough experiences in Cleveland and Detroit. But I think I learned a lot from those experiences. In the long run, as much as those were difficult times, I’m a better player for it.”

One of the things that made Garcia attractive to the Bucs was his familiarity with the West Coast offense. Garcia has played in that type of offensive system for majority of his NFL career. That’s why he expects to pick up Gruden’s system fairly quickly.

“Pretty much everything is the same,” Garcia of the West Coast system. “Once I get comfortable spitting out the terminology I don’t see any problem with the decision-making process. I’ve been in the West Coast system seven of the eight years I’ve been in the league, and I understand how it works.”

The Buccaneers are coming off a 4-12 season, their worst since 1991. If they’re going to make a significant amount of improvement in 2007, Garcia likely will play a big part in it. That’s a challenge Garcia is embracing now that he’s officially a Buccaneer.

“What I experienced in Philadelphia, the bond that we had there, the camaraderie in the locker room and on the field, and the way we had each other’s backs is something I can see happening right here in Tampa Bay.

“When you have leaders like Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott and Ronde Barber, guys that have been through tremendous years and are Pro Bowl player – these are true professionals that know how to approach the game and how to prepare for the game. Now if everybody else will jump onboard and understand what it takes to be a true pro, and not get caught up in the life of a pro, I think that’s what makes the difference between being great on Sundays and being just okay on Sundays.”

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