Garcia, who earned his fourth Pro Bowl nomination while leading the Bucs to the NFC South title in 2007, is set to earn $2 million in the final year of a two-year, $7 million contract. However, he feels he's underpaid as a starter and his unhappiness could result in a holdout prior to training camp.
Don't expect the Bucs to cave in. "You have to be careful when rewarding a player for past performance," said an AFC scout. "He played well last season, but can you count on him to duplicate that production?"
At 38, Garcia is hardly the Bucs' long-term solution. Although he steadied Tampa Bay's floundering offense last season, his surprising success did not erase the memories some people have of his woeful performances in Cleveland and Detroit.
Fortunately, the Bucs have several options when pondering whether to keep Garcia beyond 2008. They could extend him on a short-term deal that pays market value for a starting quarterback ($7 million per season) or they could use the franchise tag in 2009 (likely $9 million) to keep him under wraps for another season.
They could also move on without him. Brian Griese, Luke McCown and Simms have all started for the Bucs and are familiar with Gruden's system. Fifth-round pick Josh Johnson also figures to factor into the equation at some point. He amassed big numbers while running a version of the West Coast offense in college at San Diego and possesses all of the tools to be a solid player. (The sixth QB on the roster, Jake Plummer, obviously is not a factor. And don't forget a seventh, Bruce Gradkowski, was dropped last month.)
If Simms had his way, he wouldn't be an option either. He wanted the team to trade or release him earlier this spring, and has stopped showing up at workouts to draw attention to the matter. He was quoted earlier this week as saying, "The relationship between me and coach [Jon] Gruden -- it's broken. It just is. And I don't see any way it's going to get better again."
Don't expect the team to make a move until after Simms participates in training camp. The Bucs want more time to assess his' talent in comparison to others on the roster. Also, by giving Simms exposure during the preseason, the Bucs may be able to drum up trade interest.
As the team's starter in 2005-06, Simms compiled a 7-8 record and showed flashes of developing into a solid player prior to being sidelined with a ruptured spleen. In fact, his play was so promising that the Bucs signed him to a two-year extension at the end of the 2006 season. The Bucs are wisely taking their time before making a decision on the disgruntled Simms. The league is short on quarterbacks, and the Bucs need to be sure he doesn't have any long-term potential before letting him hit the streets.
• Another team with an unsettled quarterback situation is Baltimore. Troy Smith's surprising development over the offseason has changed the complexion of what was supposed to be a two-man race between veteran Kyle Boller and rookie Joe Flacco.
Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, started the final two games of last season and earned his teammates respect for his leadership skills. That, coupled with an impressive dedication to the team's offseason program, has Smith making a strong case to be the starter in 2008. "He's a natural leader," said a Ravens official. "He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has been doubted on every level and always had to prove people wrong. ... He has always risen to the challenge and that has given him unbelievable confidence."
While Smith still needs to work on his accuracy (52.9 percent completion rate in four games), his decision-making and exceptional mobility make him a solid complement to the Ravens running attack. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is highly regarded for his ability to build an offense around the strengths of his quarterback, so a Ravens' attack with Smith in the lineup would likely feature a power running game with a play-action passing attack that uses an assortment of movement passes.
• The Bears' decision to release Cedric Benson came on the heels of his second alcohol-related incident in five weeks, but at least one observer believes the move was more about performance than character. "A character-risk must back it up with stellar play on the field," said an AFC scout. "Right now, he hasn't done enough to combat all of the negative attention that has surrounded him."
Benson, who rushed for only 674 yards on 196 carries last season, never lived up to the hype of being the fourth overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft. He gained only 1,593 rushing yards in three injury-plagued seasons. In spite of Benson's disappointing performance, the team had shown surprising patience prior to his latest incident. "They waited patiently for him to turn it around because he was a first-round pick," said an AFC scout. "But he never played to their level of expectation and the incidents only fueled the fire. With Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte on the roster, they are probably better off without him."
Forte, the Bears' second-round pick from Tulane, has displayed outstanding running skills and appears to be an ideal workhorse for their power offense. The team will possibly add a veteran (Kevin Jones, Shaun Alexander or Ron Dayne) as an insurance policy during training camp, but it seems the Bears are comfortable with the notion of using a combination of Peterson, Forte and Garrett Wolfe to handle the ground attack this year.
As for Benson, expect a team to take a chance on him this fall after his legal woes are resolved. It's a perfect opportunity to scoop up a talented player on the cheap. Although teams will have reservations about his character, Benson will persuade some team to sign him if he displays some of the skill that made him a top-five selection.