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Simms or Griese? Coach wants both
Jon Gruden won't say who is the Bucs' starter but he wants the chance to choose between them.
By RICK STROUD
Published January 10, 2006
TAMPA - Call him the quarterback keeper.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden said Monday that he wants Chris Simms and Brian Griese back next season.
But he is not prepared to commit to either as the starter.
Simms becomes a restricted free agent in March, meaning the Bucs will have the right to match any offer he receives from another team or demand compensation.
Griese is recovering from knee surgery, but the Bucs have to decide in a few months whether to pay him a $2.6-million roster bonus.
"We've got a guy in Brian Griese who broke a Buccaneer franchise record for passing efficiency (in 2004). ... He was 5-1 when he got hurt," Gruden said. "He's a good player, a very good player. And Chris Simms, 5-1 in the division, is an up-and-coming guy. We will analyze it carefully and try to keep those guys here."
Simms certainly made his case as the Bucs' quarterback of the future after completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,035 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. After taking over for Griese, he rebounded from shaky performances in losses to the 49ers and Panthers to help the Bucs finish 11-5 and capture the NFC South title.
Griese signed a five-year, $32-million contract in March. But because of the way it's structured, the team has to decide whether to allow his salary cap figure to jump from $1.4-million to $7.1-million next season.
Griese's agent, Ralph Cindrich, said he would like to meet with the team within the next few weeks.
"The season just ended and I haven't even talked to Brian about it," Cindrich said. "I'm sure we'll get together ... to see what they're thinking."
Griese was unavailable for comment Monday. Gruden said he had not spoken to the 30-year-old veteran about his future.
"We just finished the season 48 hours ago. I'm sure he knows how I feel about him, and I think he respects what he can do in this type of offense," Gruden said.
Simms went 6-5 after taking over for Griese, starting all six games against the NFC South, including a grueling three-game road stretch. But he had two tipped passes intercepted in Saturday's 17-10 loss to the Redskins in an NFC wild-card game.
"Right now, we feel good about the quarterback position," Gruden said. "We lost a guy we won the world championship with, Brad Johnson. We replaced him with Brian Griese, who did quite well. When he got hurt, it was a very dark, ugly beginning (with the) two games that we lost in a row. But I credit Chris Simms tremendously with the progress he has made. Certainly, (quarterbacks coach) Paul Hackett has helped in that area.
"We are going to try to get Chris' contract straightened out and Brian's and everybody else's. And when we do that, we will formulate a depth chart and get some finality and closure as soon as we can."
Simms said he wouldn't mind battling Griese in training camp for the starting role.
"No, I wouldn't have that problem," Simms, 25, said. "I mean, if there's one thing I'm used to in my college and pro career, it's being in that situation. So I'm definitely not intimidated by that. Whatever they decide to do is good with me."
Simms' performance, especially his comeback bid that fell short against the Redskins after Edell Shepherd dropped a pass in the end zone, has attracted the attention of several teams, including the Lions, Jets and Dolphins, according to ESPN.
If the Bucs part with Griese, they will have six-year veteran Tim Rattay and third-year pro Luke McCown backing up Simms.
"We're going to do all we can to go to camp with the four quarterbacks that we have ... right now," Gruden said. "I think Tim Rattay was a good addition. Luke McCown is a young prospect and talent. We do, definitely, want to have all four quarterbacks as we begin our offseason program on March 20."
Just 48 hours removed from an early exit from the playoffs, however, Gruden didn't want to get into much detail about the busy offseason.
"We had our heart set on preparing for a game in Chicago," Gruden said. "We've got to get over it. Time will help us heal."