Lovie Smith delivers a message by declaring Josh McCown his starter
Neither head coach Lovie Smith nor GM Jason Licht attempted to hide the fact that Tampa Bay thought it could upgrade at quarterback over 2013 rookie starter Mike Glennon.
"Whenever you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, you have to consider that," Smith said at the combine when asked about Tampa Bay's draft plans, implying rather obviously that Glennon did not fall under the "franchise QB" umbrella.
"New coach, new regime, you can’t just hand the keys over and say this guy is our starter," said Licht, via the Tampa Bay Times. "You have to see what he is, and competition drives the best out of everybody."
Any desire for an open quarterback competition, though, fell by the wayside Wednesday when Tampa Bay landed the veteran quarterback it was after: ex-Chicago backup-turned-replacement starter Josh McCown. During the press conference to announce McCown's signing, Smith was asked if the 34-year-old journeyman would be his starter heading toward the 2014 season.
Smith's reply: "Yes, he is."
There are two implications to be drawn from that statement. One is that Glennon's future suddenly looks quite murky, despite a performance last season that was better than most expected. Any incumbent QB -- and most players, regardless of position -- is put on automatic notice when a coaching regime change occurs, and Smith wanted to get a player of his choosing under center.
The other, more sweeping conclusion to be drawn from Smith's comment: He is of the opinion that this Tampa Bay team can compete and win immediately.
That is a bold stance to take when inheriting a 4-12 team, let alone one in what shapes up to be a brutal division. It also, for now, places an awful lot of faith in McCown, who, before subbing in for Jay Cutler last season, was a combined 12-19 in his career with five teams. He also has not entered a season with a starting job since he did so for the Raiders way back in 2007. McCown was plenty steady for the Bears in 2013, but running the show from start to finish is another challenge entirely.
But the Buccaneers -- in some ways like the Chiefs of 2012 -- had more talent than their record indicated, perhaps needing only a coaching change, QB swap and upgrades in some key positions to make a serious leap up the standings.
Is Tampa Bay ready for that sort of move? Probably not quite yet. Smith's initial faith in McCown indicates that he feels otherwise; or, at the very least, that the remaining holes on his roster are fillable before Week 1 arrives.
The Tampa Bay fans should appreciate that approach, even if they want to join the rest of us in feeling skeptical. This franchise has not made the playoffs since 2007 and has not won in the postseason since taking home a Super Bowl crown in 2002. The plan by bringing in Smith was to avoid a long, drawn-out rebuilding process. Sticking with Glennon as the starter would have been a nod toward that approach, with the future taking precedence over the present. McCown may not be the right guy to lead the charge from mediocrity to contention. Smith, though, made it clear that he believes McCown will move Tampa Bay further in that direction than Glennon.