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The market for top QBs likely is too competitive

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


TAMPA -- The market for Johnson & Johnson would have to drop dramatically for the Bucs to sign one of the blue-chip free-agent quarterbacks.

Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson is expected to be high on the list for the Ravens, who also could opt to re-sign Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer.

And by the end of the week, the Bills could release 27-year-old Rob Johnson in a cost-cutting move, giving the job to more financially accommodating) veteran Doug Flutie.

If Rob Johnson becomes available, you can expect his former Southern Cal teammate, Keyshawn Johnson, to enthusiastically beat down the door of Bucs coach Tony Dungy.

But former Bills general manager John Butler, now the boss at San Diego and holding the No. 1 pick, would have a keen interest in signing Rob Johnson and trading away the top pick that presumably is reserved for Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick.

Where does that leave the Bucs?

Pinning the entire year on the improvement and continued good health of third-year quarterback Shaun King.

"I think you're always looking at the quarterbacks and you'd like to get a good quarterback in. But I know we're not going to have $4- or $5- or $6-million to spend," Dungy said. "It's also a question of who will be interested in us. Who knows? We'll look to improve like we do at any position. But we're not going to be able to compete with teams that are looking at paying starter money."

The secondary list of free-agent quarterbacks is just slightly better than the collection of dead arms in the XFL.

Does anybody see King staying up counting ceiling tiles in training camp over his competition with Denver's Gus Frerotte or Seattle's Jon Kitna or Chicago's Shane Matthews?

WUNSCH CRUNCH: If you want to improve your passing game, it helps to give your quarterback at least three Mississippis to unload the football.

That's why the Bucs will re-sign right tackle Jerry Wunsch before or shortly after the Friday free-agent period.

Wunsch may never make the Pro Bowl, but he's an improving player and a good egg with lots of community ties for his charitable work with pediatric cancer patients.

He's represented by Ralph Cindrich, the agent for former Bucs linemen Paul Gruber and Tony Mayberry, who played their entire careers in Tampa Bay.

Wunsch is not worse than the third-best available free-agent tackle, behind Dolphins veteran Richmond Webb and the 49ers Scott Gragg.

"Tackles hard to come by," Dungy said. "Jerry has played well for us, obviously."

The Bucs are more likely to lose two other starters -- free safety Damien Robinson and cornerback Ronde Barber.

"You're going to make your pitch, but sometimes you've got to put yourself in their shoes," Dungy said. "When you get this close, to not test the free-agent market, you've got to have a strong reason to stay. We'd like to have all our guys back, but, realistically, you know some are going to go."

NEW BLOOD: The coaches are looking at college players to determine which ones fit their system. But what about the new coaches unfamiliar with the system?

In some cases, Dungy says, quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Joe Barry are more familiar with the college players than the rest of the staff.

"They know some of these players better than we do," Dungy said. "They recruited some of them and a lot of times, they played against them."

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