The Bucs expect to lose defensive lineman Warren Sapp, probably to the Baltimore Ravens, in the next week or so, but so far, only pint-sized linebacker Nate Webster has left the Bucs' defense for free agency when he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
That's not to say the Bucs have not been busy so far. The offense, which struggled throughout the 7-9 disaster of 2003, has been going through a major makeover. For starters, it appears incumbent quarterback Brad Johnson will face major competition from former San Francisco QB Jeff Garcia. Published reports from The Dispatch in Gilroy, Calif., say that Garcia has agreed to a $15-$20 million deal with the Bucs just after a lengthy meeting with the Cleveland Browns late last week. The Browns offered Garcia, 34, a two-year deal worth $8 million with a signing bonus of between $4 and $5 million.
Garcia's father, Bobby, said, however, that his son was ready to sign with the Bucs for a reported deal between $15 and $20 million.
He would still have to unseat Johnson as the Bucs' starting QB. Whoever wins the job won't have Shawn King breathing down his neck. King, 26, who led the Bucs to the 1999 NFC Championship Game, signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals to play for new coach Dennis Green. He will compete with Josh McCown for the starting role. As an unrestricted free agent, King reportedly said the Bucs made no serious offers and, after the Bucs drafted heralded Texas quarterback Chris Simms in the third round last season, King's future seemed shot with the Bucs.
Whoever runs the Bucs offense in 2004 will have some much-needed protection. The Bucs' offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last season, but they made some major free agent signings last week, picking up Derrick Deese and Matt Stinchcomb who will be immediate starters. The Bucs are also talking with Baltimore right tackle Orlando Brown, one of the better offensive tackles in the game.
Deese has been with the 49ers his entire career and has gone 35 games without allowing a sack. He is also familiar with Bucs coach Jon Gruden's West Coast offense. Stinchcomb, a former first round pick for the Oakland Raiders in 1999, played for Gruden in Oakland and can play left guard, left tackle or center.
The Bucs also resigned tight end Ricky Dudley and brought back Dave Moore after letting him go to Buffalo as a free agent three years ago.
Another key signing that went under the radar last week was fullback Greg Comella who left the Houston Texans. Comella doesn't get a lot of carries, but he's a crushing blocker who the Bucs will need for whomever carries the ball this season. Running backs Thomas Jones (Chicago) and Aaron Stecker (New Orleans) left for free agency, and Michael Pittman's status is still uncertain.
The Bucs also nee to address their punting situation after incumbent Tom Tupa signed with the Washington Redskins last week.
Then, of course, there's the situation involving Bucs' wayward son, Keyshawn Johnson. He is headed to Dallas, but the Bucs need to know what they will be getting in return. Most likely, the Bucs will have to settle for a draft pick, not Joey Galloway as expected. In a case of addition by subtraction, the loss of the volatile Johnson should help team chemistry, but will certainly be a concern on draft day. The Bucs signed injury-riddled free agent Sylvester Morris, a former first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, but he hasn't caught an NFL pass in three seasons.
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