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Garcia might be starting QB in '07
The Bucs will have a highly paid starting quarterback next season, but don't be surprised if it's Jeff Garcia.
By RICK STROUD
Published December 31, 2006
TAMPA - The Bucs will have a highly paid starting quarterback next season, but don't be surprised if it's Jeff Garcia.
Despite last week's signing of Chris Simms to a two-year contract that could be worth as much as $14.5-million, coach Jon Gruden will make a run at one of the NFL's hottest passers.
What's more, Garcia, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, is believed to have the Bucs at the top of his list.
Since taking over for the injured Donovan McNabb, Garcia is 4-1 and has the Eagles poised to win the NFC East. He has a 62 percent completion rate, 1,280 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Garcia turns 37 in February, but Gruden has enjoyed more success with veteran quarterbacks.
Rich Gannon had his best seasons under Gruden in Oakland while in his mid 30s.
Watching the Bucs' season circle the drain after Simms' ruptured spleen convinced Gruden he can't afford to pin his hopes on an inexperienced quarterback such as Bruce Gradkowski.
Any quarterback will have to adapt to the Bucs' system because Gruden does a poor job of adapting to his quarterback's abilities.
Garcia has proved he can run the west coast offense in San Francisco and Philadelphia. Unlike Simms, he has terrific running skills, having scored 24 career touchdowns.
Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen will get one more bite of the apple, and they will stand more than $25-million under the salary cap. Even Simms said he wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs go after a veteran quarterback.
"I think the contract somewhat speaks for itself," Simms said. "They gave me a pretty good sum of money, and I think that shows, at least, they are committed to me in some way or form."
Here's how the Bucs are committed.
About $5-million of Simms' deal is guaranteed. That's a nice wager to see if he can develop into a big-time passer but not enough to preclude them from throwing open the competition with Garcia.
The Bucs have flirted with Garcia twice before. Taking over for Steve Young in San Francisco in 1999, he went to three straight Pro Bowls before falling out of favor with enigmatic receiver Terrell Owens.
The Bucs tried to sign Garica after the 2003 season. But salary cap restraints limited their offer to one year and the veteran minimum.
Garcia flew to Tampa and met with Gruden and Allen, but he signed with Cleveland for the chance to be the starter.
After the 2004 season, Tampa Bay talked to Garcia again before he was reunited with Steve Mariucci in Detroit. Injuries and ineffectiveness led him to accept a one-year deal as the backup with the Eagles.
But Philadelphia is committed to McNabb, who will earn $5.5-million next season.
Simms believed the grass - and perhaps the money - wouldn't be greener in free agency.
"I think it is a weird year for the quarterback position as far as free agency goes," Simms said. "Just evaluating team to team, I don't know if there are going to be a whole lot of positions open. There are a few, but some of them are going to draft quarterbacks. There were a lot more 'ifs' as far as free agency goes as compared to here.
"At the end of the day, I think it just goes back to my confidence in myself. And I just think we have a lot of things here that can go in the right direction and we can pull this thing together."