Despite the debacle his one-year stint in Cleveland was, the former three-time Pro Bowl selection will have options once he's officially released next week. Where's he headed after that? Here's a quick check of the likely suspects:
1. Tampa Bay -- Last offseason Garcia nearly turned down starter's money from Cleveland to accept the Bucs' low-ball offer, and he has a long-standing desire to play in Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Tampa Bay will have interest, but the Bucs also want to retain Brian Griese and will likely use Garcia's sudden availability as leverage with Griese at the bargaining table.
Griese is due a $6 million bonus in March, with a $2 million 2005 salary. Look for the Bucs to try and bring Griese back for a more manageable $3 million to $4 million total payout. We expect Griese will read the tea leaves correctly and work out a new deal in Tampa before Garcia hits the market. But even if he does, it's possible the Bucs would still pursue Garcia at a bargain-basement price, in the hopes of taking the two veterans plus third-year man Chris Simms to training camp.
Believing it wouldn't take much to win the Bucs starting job, and not prioritizing money at this point in his career, Garcia might be tempted to take Tampa Bay up on its offer and fight it out with Griese.
2. Detroit -- With former 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci running the Lions, you certainly can't discount Motown in the Garcia sweepstakes. Whether or not you believe Joey Harrington's days are numbered in Detroit, he has at best a tenuous hold on the starter's job. Garcia knows the offense and could provide the improving Lions the kind of veteran insurance policy that's too attractive to pass up.
3. San Francisco -- True, things didn't end well for Garcia in 49er-land, but it's not as if either side burned every (Bay Area) bridge. Garcia remains a northern California boy whose NFL success came in maroon and gold. If you combine Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey, San Francisco still doesn't have a No. 1 quarterback. Garcia buys a team in transition a bit more time. As a bonus, he allows them to avoid the costly and time-consuming chore of drafting a franchise quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick this year.
And we're guessing after a year in Cleveland, home will be looking pretty darn good to Garcia about now.
4. Arizona -- In some ways, the marriage of Garcia and Cardinals head coach Dennis Green seems ideal. Green isn't sold on Josh McCown and Garcia is a West Coast-style quarterback, where Green's background lies. On top of that, there's Green has a well-documented track record for getting great production out of veteran quarterbacks (see Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George).
But in truth, the Cardinals are probably a longshot. With Arizona's stockpile of big receivers who can stretch the field, Green would prefer a passer with a bigger arm than Garcia's. The Cardinals version of the West Coast system has a more vertical element to it, and is less dink-and-dunk than others.
5. Seattle -- If Matt Hasselbeck doesn't re-sign with the Seahawks -- who will probably franchise offensive tackle Walter Jones -- Garcia would look awfully appealing in head coach Mike Holmgren's West Coast system.
6. St. Louis -- Chris Chandler and Jamie Martin floundered when they had to take over for the injured Marc Bulger, so the Rams are definitely in the market for a quality veteran backup. Playing indoors in Mike Martz's offense sounds pretty good to any quarterback's ears, doesn't it?
7. Miami -- Garcia has no ties of any kind with new head coach Nick Saban, but the Dolphins do need an experienced hand behind A.J. Feeley, so Miami makes the list.