Last call for Simms in a Bucs uniform?

The saga of the young quarterback in Tampa Bay could end soon after the final preseason game.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

TAMPA - For as long as Chris Simms can remember, he never had trouble throwing a football.

That's what's so maddening about his condition. He can run, jump, do stomach crunches - everything. Only his left arm betrays him.

As a result, Simms has as much control of his future with the Bucs as one of his errant passes.

Simms, who turned 27 Wednesday, could make his final appearance in a Tampa Bay uniform tonight against the Texans.

Although Simms is making progress, the effects of his splenectomy in September have prevented him from really competing for a spot on the roster.

He began training camp with a sore left elbow and got few reps before the team left Lake Buena Vista. He has appeared in just one series this preseason - six plays against the Dolphins last week, including a dropped pass and another that was pitched illegally after he crossed the line of scrimmage.

"Look, I love the guy," coach Jon Gruden said. "We've had five years together. Who knows? We may have five more together, you never know. There's a lot left unsaid about his future and his career right now, and we're trying like hell to give him a chance to resume his normal playing status."

But Simms has dropped to fourth on the depth chart, well below Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski. His best chance to remain with the Bucs on Saturday when teams must reach the 53-player limit is if they keep four quarterbacks, a move that's unlikely for the long term.

"We're going to try to keep our best players, so I won't say we wouldn't do that," Gruden said. "We're going to keep our best players, and certainly we've got some good quarterbacks.

"There's a lot that goes into it. Not a lot of teams keep four. Some teams only keep two. We have some tough decisions to make, and we'll make them."

Beyond playing tonight, Simms declined to speculate about his future with the team that drafted him in the third round out of Texas in 2003.

"Those are things you have to ask Gruden," he said. "I'm just going to continue to work and try to get better. I'm not going to worry about the things I can't control."

His appearance against the Texans could be brief.

There's a bit of a battle for the No. 2 spot suddenly brewing between McCown, 26, and Gradkowski, 24, the second-year player who has had back-to-back solid performances.

"It might be something that changes during the season," Gruden said. "I just want the starter to stay healthy and enjoy great success for a change. That's our No. 1 goal right now."

Because the Bucs have a lot invested in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Simms - they signed him in the offseason to a two-year extension that included $5-million in guarantees - they could keep him around a few weeks to see if they can get leverage on a team that loses a quarterback to injury.

A healthy Simms lost his past four starts, including in the playoffs to Washington in 2005, throwing nine interceptions.

"The troublesome part has not been so much his injuries, it's been the performance of three other guys, too," Gruden said. "We're going to weigh all of that, and we're not going to let a good quarterback just get out of here. We have a lot of respect for him. He struggled in his last four starts. I think he had nine interceptions in his last four starts and lost them all.

"There's some things we want to clean up with him. He's the kind of kid I did everything to help him, and certainly he's capable of being a good quarterback in pro football. It'll be a tough call and a decision that, unfortunately, will have to be made."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.