Concerns go beyond receivers
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published February 29, 2004
TAMPA - If the Bucs complete a trade for Joey Galloway, he will become the seventh receiver acquired since the end of the 2003 season.
But is Brad Johnson the quarterback who will throw to them?
General manager Bruce Allen said the Bucs would like to bring five quarterbacks to training camp. Only Johnson, 35, and second-year pro Chris Simms are under contract. You can do the math.
Jon Gruden has nibbled on every available arm this offseason. Mark Brunell proved to be too costly in salary and compensation. Drew Henson is too inexperienced to give in to his demands. But Monday, another big-name, big-game quarterback is expected to enter the market.
Barring a last-minute agreement, the 49ers will release Jeff Garcia. At 34 and one season removed from the Pro Bowl, Garcia still is among the elite quarterbacks. Given the state of the Bucs offensive line, Gruden will love any quarterback with mobility. And Garcia is proficient in the West Coast offense.
But Garcia, like Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler, will seek a starting job and won't want to compete with the likes of Johnson.
A more likely solution will be if the Raiders release Rich Gannon. Not only is he a favorite of Gruden and Allen, he might be willing to end his career in Tampa Bay. And word is Johnson wouldn't have a problem competing with Gannon, 38, for the starting job.
But the Bucs should be more concerned about other positions.
With Michael Pittman about to go on trial for domestic battery, fullback Mike Alstott coming off surgery to repair a herniated disc and Thomas Jones and Aaron Stecker free agents, the Bucs better concentrate on finding someone for Johnson to hand off to.
Charlie Garner now is making noise about not voiding his contract and returning to the Raiders. That leaves Jones, the Eagles' Duce Staley and 49ers' Garrison Hearst as the top free-agent running backs. "We're a little limited in the number of weapons especially since free agency has a number of our players," Allen said. "We have some openings we need to fill."
The first need filled? Raiders left tackle Matt Stinchcomb is considered nearly a lock to sign with Tampa Bay. NO RELIEF: Allen is having more difficulty than expected getting salary-cap relief from some of the Bucs' highly paid veterans. The problem is many defensive starters already have restructured their contracts several times.
Say you have three years left on your deal. If you agree to restructure your contract and lower your base salary over the next two seasons, what are the chances you will play out the contract when the base salary escalates? "It's what I thought it was going to be when I came here. The key to the salary cap is players," Allen said. "One, get the right players. But two, the players understand the salary cap, and we're just trying to teach a new way of doing business.
"I wish it was as simple as that, where it was a cookie-cutter formula. We've utilized in Oakland at least 50 ways, including ways the collective-bargaining agreement never contemplated. The new one has some of those in there now. But there's a number of ways to do it." Given the lack of salary-cap room and plethora of needs, what makes Allen believe they will be better than 7-9 in 2004?
"If you didn't have good players, you could use the word "dire.' I think we have an opportunity to do very well," Allen said. "We're going to have to make some difficult decisions. I feel so confident we have the best coaching staff in the NFL that I know that we'll be able to attract players to this place. What happens between now and then, I couldn't tell you. Because a lot of deals, they sign the day before training camp opens. Deals will come in at any time."
[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]
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