The Buccaneers reported to training camp on Friday, but most of the conversation and questions around Celebration Hotel centered around retired Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
The Favre hype intensified on Friday afternoon when multiple reports surfaced regarding the Green Bay Packers giving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets permission to speak to Favre.
Favre, 38, reportedly is expected to submit a letter to the NFL asking to be reinstated as early as today. Reports also suggest that Favre intends to report to Packers training camp this weekend.
But the Packers have been preparing to enter the 2008 season with Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback ever since Favre announced his retirement from the NFL in March, which is why the team is trying to determine what type of interest teams have in trading for Favre.
The Bucs are one of the few teams in the NFL that have the cap room to take on Favre's $12 million-per-year contract, which has two years remaining on it. But while Tampa Bay has reportedly shown a significant amount of interest in Favre, head coach Jon Gruden attempted to downplay those reports on Friday.
"I don't know what the Packers are doing, personally. All I know is what I'm doing. I don't know what Green Bay is doing and I certainly don't know what Brett Favre is doing and my cell phone proves that," Gruden said, referring to the tampering charges Green Bay recently filed against Minnesota for Favre allegedly calling the Vikings on a team cell phone.
Earlier in the week, Bucs quarterback Chris Simms was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times as saying that Bucs general manager Bruce Allen recently asked Simms if he thought Favre could come to Tampa Bay and learn Gruden's playbook in training camp while taking a limited amount of reps.
Gruden has a history with Favre dating back to their days together in Green Bay, where Gruden served as an offensive assistant (1992) and the team's wide receivers coach (1993-94). Gruden was the one who picked up Favre from the airport after Atlanta had traded him to Green Bay in '92.
Favre is a three-time league MVP and Super Bowl winner. He owns records for most career touchdowns (442), most career passing yards (61,655), most career completions (5,377), most consecutive starts (275 including the playoffs) and career interceptions (288).
Last season, Favre completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 4,155 yards and tossed 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions en route making the Pro Bowl and leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.
Bucs QB Jeff Garcia wasn't available for comment since he did not report to training camp with his teammates on Friday. The team has excused Garcia for the first two days of training camp (July 26 and 27) so he can attend his father's 35th-year anniversary reunion for his junior college championship.
"That's a very unique relationship," Gruden said. "[Jeff's] dad was a great coach in his own right. This affair that they have to reunite a very special football team is kind of a once in a lifetime deal. I just think that in the best interests of the Garcia family that Jeff needed to be there. I agreed with him on that. This will give Luke McCown and Brian Griese the chance to work with the [first-team] and it gives us a chance to see where Chris Simms and Josh Johnson certainly."
Garcia, 38, completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,440 yards and tossed 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in his Buccaneer debut in 2007. That performance helped Tampa Bay win the NFC South division title and earned Garcia a trip to the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
Garcia received a $3 million signing bonus and earned $2 million in base salary as part of the two-year contract Tampa Bay signed him to last year. Garcia feels he outperformed his contract and has made it clear that he wants a new deal that is more lucrative in nature. He also missed out on approximately $1 million in unlikely-to-be-earned incentives due to Tampa Bay's decision to rest Garcia after the Bucs had secured a playoff spot.
As of right now it appears as though Tampa Bay and Garcia's agent, Steve Baker, have not made much progress on contract negotiations.
Gruden acknowledged that the rumors, reports and speculation regarding Favre as it relates to Tampa Bay is not fair to Garcia, but understood how Favre's credentials could cause such a stir.
"You're talking about a great quarterback," Gruden said of Favre. "One of the great quarterbacks in my era and in a lot of our eras. His accomplishments speak for themselves. The last I heard and the last I checked, he is a Green Bay Packer – has been and probably will for the rest of his career. That's about all I can say. When you are talking about a sure-fire Hall of Famer going through this strange point in his career, there is going to be speculation. People have their work to do in reporting it.
"We're just speculating. I love Jeff Garcia. I've never said anything but positive things about Jeff. I have tremendous confidence in him leading this football team. He's a huge reason why we got this thing turned around last year and a huge reason why we have a chance to win the division again this year. To speculate on all these questions is unfair to Jeff and unfair to our football team."
Gruden also said that Garcia is Tampa Bay's starting quarterback.
"I work with people," Gruden said. "Until we get together and see what the issues are at hand, we'll address it [when the time comes]. But as I sit here today, Jeff Garcia is our quarterback and I'm very excited about that."
Several Bucs players said Garcia earned the respect of his teammates and established himself as a leader in Tampa Bay last year.
"All you really know about someone when you play football with is how they finish things," said Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter. "How they work. How much effort they give. I don't know much about his personal life, but you get to know a person when you play with them. He ‘s one of my favorite people, and one of my favorite Bucs. I love to watch him play. I hope that everything is cool with him, and we'll see him when he gets back.
"His performance was inspirational. He lifted our team to whole other level. I wasn't here two years ago, but team didn't do so well that year. Maybe there were injuries or whatever. The next year we had a big turn around, and Jeff Garcia was a large part of that. I thought his performance was great."
Added Bucs guard Davin Joseph: "Going from a 4-12 season to a playoff team that speaks for itself. [Garcia] put up great numbers and made it to the pro bowl. He was a reflection of the direction in which we were going. He proved that an offensive line could keep a quarterback reasonably healthy in Tampa. Having Jeff back for another year gives us hope that we can advance further into the playoffs and hopefully be in that Super Bowl picture come the end of the season."
The Bucs players also said they'd be fine going into the 2008 season with Garcia as their quarterback.
"I don't know I guess, I'm like the general public," said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks. "No one truly knows what is going on. Again as a player at this point in the season all you can do is worry about yourself. That is what training camp is here to do, for each player to focus on himself and his team, and earn his spot on the team. For me the focus is on the business of the Buccaneers. Outside of that, and what is going on outside of the white lines, I have no idea. It is amazing to hear.
"I'm fine with our quarterbacks. Jeff came in and did a heck of a job for us. He solidified some leadership from the quarterback position which he hadn't had around here for quite awhile."
One of the main reasons why the Bucs have been linked to Favre is because of Tampa Bay's recent penchant for collecting quarterbacks under Gruden, who has had nine different players start at quarterback for the Bucs in his six-year tenure in Tampa Bay.
To put that number in perspective, the Packers haven't had anyone start a game other than Favre since Week 4 of the 1992 season.
Gruden was quick to explain why the Bucs have stockpiled talent at the quarterback position and will continue to be interested in bringing in quarterbacks that can help the team win.
"I really don't want to answer too many questions honestly and speculate about Brett Favre's career," Gruden said. "Every quarterback that is available has been linked to me at some time or another. But you know what? If you want to be honest, I've only been here I don't know how many years – it seems like a long time – but we used three quarterbacks in 2002. [Brad] Johnson got hurt in a key point of the season. We had our quarterback injured in 2004. We had our quarterback injured in 2005. We had our quarterback injured in 2006 and we lost Luke McCown in an offseason program [injury] for the season. We lost our quarterback in 2007. So for all the people out there that think I'm crazy to put together a real strong nucleus – I'm sorry, but we have really been snake-bitten a lot at that position. I don't want that to have any deterrent on what this football team can do. I want to try to get as quality as I can get at that position for the guys that we have at this point in time."
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