Somewhere in America, Jake Plummer is playing handball. Somewhere in Tampa Bay, Bruce Allen is still holding on to the hope that Plummer will trade in his rubber ball for a pigskin.
Jake Plummer retired, you say? That's funny. I must have missed the paperwork. In fact, so did the NFL. More than a month after he told the Denver media he was really serious about retirement — and then bolted for that infamous handball game — he still hasn't filed his paperwork with the NFL, the last step toward declaring it a career.
First, it's not altogether unusual for a player to announce his retirement and then delay the paperwork. When Emmitt Smith finally called it quits, it took him more than a month to file his paperwork with the NFL. Marshall Faulk just retired at age 34 after taking a year off, but never officially announcing his retirement. So Plummer could walk into the Park Avenue offices of the NFL tomorrow and hand his papers over to commissioner Roger Goodell.
But it would not surprise me if, by training camp, Plummer was still the property of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and still holding onto his retirement paperwork. In fact, I expect it.
I can't blame Plummer. What happened to him last year in Denver would be demoralizing for even a below-average quarterback. After leading the Broncos to the AFC Championship game the season before, Plummer watched Mike Shanahan draft his successor, Jay Cutler, and then bench him for the rookie in the middle of a playoff race the Broncos eventually slid out of. Denver probably would have slid out of the postseason even with Plummer at the controls, but as he watched those final games from the sidelines, there was a lot of wounded pride on that face of his. Plummer's always been a starter, and a situation like that is embarrassing for any veteran.
Announcing his retirement is the perfect solution. It gives him a chance to clear his head without a lot of pressure to play this season. Imagine if he hadn't announced his retirement, and instead just said I'm not coming to Tampa Bay. I could see one of the local TV stations with a "Plummer Watch — Day 52" graphic to lead the sportscast.
Jake's 31 years old. That's midway through most above-average quarterbacks' careers. Heck, Vinny Testaverde was just getting started at age 31. I don't really believe that Plummer's willing to leave all this behind to go play handball. Barry Sanders' excuse was better. He just wanted to travel.
I'm not sure Plummer's calculating this as a ploy, but I believe in two things — he needs time to lick his wounds and he doesn't want to be in Tampa Bay. As if losing his job to Cutler wasn't enough, Shanahan traded him to a loser, a 4-12 team that looked like a shell of its 2005 self last year. Imagine if you're a pipe-fitter for the best contractor in town and you suddenly were traded to a similar company with a decaying reputation. That's Plummer.
Allen probably thought he was rescuing Plummer from a warm seat on the bench when he dealt a fourth-round pick in 2008 (It becomes a seventh round selection if Plummer goes through with retirement). Allen said he knew full well that Plummer was contemplating retirement. Allen reasoned the day of the official announcement of Plummer's trade that many players say they're contemplating retirement, but come back, using Napoleon Kaufman as an example.
True, Bruce, but there's a big difference between contemplating it and holding a press conference about it. BIG DIFFERENCE.
That day — and on days since — Allen has made it clear that he believes Plummer will play football again. Unless Allen suddenly developed a window into Plummer's soul, he's just guessing — and gambling. For there is a way this whole embarrassing debacle can be salvaged for both parties.
Seriously, there's no need to push this for either party. Plummer needs some time to hike the Rockies, eat some nuts and berries and contemplate his future. Allen has the cap room to absorb Plummer's contract. If Plummer changes his mind about Tampa Bay, then he just adds Plummer to the current competitors at the position — Chris Simms and Jeff Garcia.
If Plummer still won't show, then all Allen must do is wait for a quarterback to get hurt.
Plummer still has value, especially if it's late summer and he still hasn't filed his paperwork. Just wait until Michael Vick blows out a knee. Or Donovan McNabb injures his shoulder. Or Trent Green has another concussion. Or Daunte Culpepper's strip-mall rehab plan fails again. A starting quarterback will go down for an extended period, either in preseason or in the early part of the regular season. That's as much of a given as death and taxes. When that happens, Plummer becomes the most valuable commodity on the quarterback market. And the Bucs are his broker.
All Allen has to do is wait until a team needs a frontline starter and extort them for a high pick for Plummer. But the Bucs only paid a fourth-rounder for him, you say? The market will be much different in August and September than March. You saw how the Bucs struggled to find a veteran backup last summer after Luke McCown blew out his knee, right? Jay Fiedler? The Bucs had to sign damaged goods. There was nothing out there, not even by trade. Imagine being a contender that loses its starting quarterback in Week 2 and has the equivalent of Bruce Gradkowski backing said quarterback up. Ugly.
No, a team with a future, a legitimate chance to contend, will pay out the nose to get Plummer, and the Bucs will benefit. I think there's a chance — a chance — that Plummer could command a second-round pick in 2008. Third or fourth round is probably more realistic. There might even be a chance Allen could get a player out of the trade.
And all Allen has to do is wait for the inevitable. Then that omelet stuck to his face can finally slide off.