In an unprecedented public relations maneuver Tuesday, the Bucs issued this message: Brad Johnson's the man!
In response to swirling speculation, the organization attempted to put an end to rumors the team has any interest in Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, initially rumored to be released after June 1. But the Raiders announced intentions Tuesday to keep Gannon despite the acquisition of Kerry Collins.
First by hitting the airwaves on a local radio show, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen adamantly stood behind Johnson, as well as the three other backups.
Careful not to talk about Gannon, who is still under contract with the Raiders, Allen said the Bucs plan to enter training camp with Johnson as the starter and that the team has no intention off adding another veteran quarterback.
"We expect to play against Rich Gannon in Oakland on Sunday night television," Allen said, referring to the Bucs game Sept 26. "We feel great about the four we're going to go to camp with."
National speculation about Gannon's release has been going on for months, but it escalated Monday when the Raiders signed Collins to a three-year, $16-million contract.
But Allen said talk about Gannon playing for the Bucs was mere speculation anyway.
"There's been a lot of players who have been speculated on because there have been quite a few players that want to come to play here in Tampa," Allen said. "That's the nature of it and we're happy about that.
"We would not have been able to sign the free agents that we did unless they wanted to come here. So, no (speculation) is part of it. I think people are off base in making projections at that position. We feel very comfortable with those four and are very proud to have all four on the roster."
But the Bucs aren't completely out of the quarterback market. Allen said Tampa Bay is pursuing another quarterback for training camp, though this one likely will have some unique features. Allen said the Bucs want a young college player whose speed can mimic that of Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Gannon, 38, wouldn't fit that mold anyway.
"It'll be somebody who has great mobility and can help our defense prepare for what we might see in the regular season," Allen said. "It's not a name that you all are going to even know."
Johnson, who led the Bucs to a Super Bowl win in 2002, started all 16 games in 2003 and set a team record with 26 TDs, has had an offseason full of questions about job security. The Bucs reportedly had an interest in Mark Brunell, traded from the Jaguars to the Redskins, and were in contract talks with Jeff Garcia, who signed with the Browns. Still Allen reiterated that the team and Gruden are committed to Johnson.
"As you've seen in the last month, the reason we've been trying so hard to add quality depth to the position is that (teams like) the 49ers and Baltimore have lost their starting quarterbacks over the last month," he said. "You always have to be prepared in case something happens. Because of the dedication of Brian Griese and especially Chris Simms this offseason, we feel that we have at least three guys who can walk in and start opening game. Jason Garrett, as he's shown over the years, is a more than capable backup and we have every confidence in the world in him, too."
And what about Johnson's feelings? "I don't think it's affected Brad at all," Allen said.