Flynn's Focus: Quarterback Quandary

August 21 – With only two more games to play in the preseason and roster cuts on the way, Tampa Bay will have some tough decisions to make. But there might not be a more difficult decision for Tampa Bay to make than the one at quarterback, where one of the four players at the position will be deemed the odd man out. Which one will it be? That is the question we tackle in this week's installment of Flynn's Focus.

All four of the Buccaneers' quarterbacks have struggled in preseason thus far, but some have struggled more than others. Starting QB Brad Johnson has yet to lead the first-team offense down the field for a touchdown. Johnson has completed 9-of-17 (52.9 percent) passes this preseason for 61 yards. Johnson is the only one out of the four quarterbacks that does not have to worry about job security.

Meanwhile, last year's starter QB Shaun King fared well against Miami, but was very inconsistent in the game against Cleveland. This preseason, King is 12-of-25 (48 percent) for 128 yards and has thrown one touchdown and one interception. King has led the Bucs to the end zone by throwing a touchdown strike to WR Karl Williams in the first preseason game against Miami.

That brings us to QB Ryan Leaf, who did not do well in training camp and has had a dismal outing in preseason. Leaf has completed 4-of-13 (30.7 percent) passes for 32 yards and has thrown one interception.

Quarterback Joe Hamilton engineered one of the only two touchdown drives the Bucs' offense has had this offseason. In fact, both of his touchdown drives in the past two preseasons have been late in the fourth quarter when the team was trailing. Hamilton has completed 6-of-12 (50 percent) of his passes for 68 yards and one touchdown.

There has been some speculation the Bucs might be showcasing King in order to trade him for a high draft pick before the regular season starts, but after watching the quarterbacks in action in the first two preseason games, this move would be completely insane.

King is only in his third-year as a NFL quarterback and as a starter, King has a record of 15-9. King's playoff record is identical to Johnson's (1-2). King may lack consistency, but he is a proven winner. The Bucs also have a second round draft choice invested in King.

When Tampa Bay picked up QB Ryan Leaf off of waivers from San Diego for just $100 in March, it was assumed QB Joe Hamilton would be the odd man out while Leaf pushed King for the No. 2 spot. The competition between King and Leaf has quickly become a wash while Hamilton has certainly done all he can to prove his worth to the team.

The Bucs' plan was simple from the start of training camp. Let's play Johnson, King and Leaf while we sneak Hamilton onto the practice squad. Well, after Johnson missed the first week of training camp with a lacerated leg, King missed a few days of practice with a bruised shoulder and Leaf missed a few days to attend a funeral, Hamilton was able to get more reps than the team ever expected he would. Throughout training camp, Hamilton took advantage of those extra reps and was the most consistent of the four quarterbacks.

Instead of allowing Hamilton to play in the last drive against the Browns when Tampa Bay trailed by one point, the Bucs elected to see what Leaf could do in the situation. Although Leaf did not succeed, it was still the right decision. The Bucs already know what Hamilton can do in that type of situation, however, they did not know what Leaf could do.

Not only did Leaf not succeed in moving the Bucs up the field to get in field goal range, but he and the entire offense flopped.

Now, if some of the whispers about trading King have any truth to them, how is Tampa Bay going to trust Leaf to back up Johnson this season? How can the Bucs be certain Leaf's attitude is ok, never mind his wrist? Leaf is clearly having trouble grasping the Bucs' offense and still appears to be bothered by a broken wrist he sustained last season with San Diego.

Here is how this situation will likely turn out. Johnson is the starter. This is a given. King will not be traded. In fact, he will be Johnson's backup all season. Leaf will be kept as the third string quarterback and the Bucs' will roll the dice by waiving Hamilton and hoping he clears waivers so they can place him on the practice squad.

Why waive Hamilton and not Leaf? Although the Bucs only spent $100 to bring him aboard, Tampa Bay did give Leaf a signing bonus. Leaf is not a practice squad candidate and if the Bucs chose to cut him now, the signing bonus they gave him will be accelerated this season. Although he struggled out in San Diego and is doing the same in Tampa Bay, he was still the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft for good reason. Leaf has all of the tools to work with. It is just a matter of whether or not he will be able to bring them out of the shed before Tampa Bay has to decide who their future quarterback is going to be.

Meanwhile, if the Bucs are fortunate enough to place Hamilton on the practice squad, he will be brought aboard as the team's third string quarterback again in 2002. If the Bucs lose Hamilton, they will lose a good player, but only have a seventh round draft pick invested in him.

The Buccaneers have one of the best quarterback situations in the NFL in terms of depth. If Tampa Bay tries to have Hamilton clear waivers, the chances of him being picked up by another team are very good. Hamilton might be faring better now, but if Leaf can live up to his potential for the Buccaneers between now and next season, they will have made one of the biggest steals in NFL history.

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