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It's become apparent that Tampa Bay free-agent quarterback Shaun King's poor performance during the Buccaneers' 17-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season dramatically decreased his value as a free agent, and don't think the Bucs front office didn't realize this when King's rookie contract expired on February 28.
What have you done for me lately? That's the question the Bucs and other teams have raised when flirting with the idea of signing King. The problem is King, who guided the Pewter Pirates to 14 wins between 1999-2000, hasn't done much over the last two seasons, and it's caused King to draw little interest from other teams.
King has started just one game in the last two seasons, and he turned in one of the poorest performances of his career against the Steelers in his only start last season.
Although King led Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship Game in his rookie season ('99) and to the playoffs in 2000, the Bucs grew disgruntled with King's inconsistent play (55.9 career completion percentage) and film study habits, or lack thereof, and decided to upgrade its quarterback position by signing Brad Johnson to a five-year, $28-million deal during the 2001 offseason.
Since then, King, who's had four different offensive coordinators in as many years, has patiently awaited his turn to become a starter again in the NFL, and he thought the opportunity would present itself when he became a free agent, but that hasn't happened. Instead, Jake Plummer (Denver), Jake Delhomme (Carolina), Rob Johnson (Washington), Jeff Blake (Arizona) and Kordell Stewart (Chicago) have filled most teams' quarterback vacancies this offseason.
Even the Bucs replaced Rob Johnson, who signed with Washington a few weeks ago, by signing 10-year veteran Shane Matthews last week. So, it's no surprise that King's attitude has changed over the last two weeks. His patience in free agency hasn't helped him. Instead, it's severely limited his options. And now King might not even have a job waiting for him in Tampa.
The Bucs have three quarterbacks -- Brad Johnson, Shane Matthews and Greg Zolman -- under contract, and the team is reportedly close to signing Chicago free-agent QB Jim Miller.
If Miller, 32, does in fact join the Bucs, the team would not likely sign another quarterback, according to general manager Rich McKay.
"We'll try to sign probably one more (quarterback)," McKay said Monday. "When that is, I can't say. It could be in the next week or it could be in three months. We're working through it and trying to figure out which player would be a fit to play for us and cap-wise."
Although the Bucs might only plan on bringing four arms into training camp, the team could decide to get five quarterbacks under contract by signing King and Miller.
Miller, who underwent shoulder and foot surgery after he was placed on the injured reserve by the Bears last season, won't likely be ready to throw until July or August. That said, the Bucs could roll the dice on Miller by signing him to a one-year contract while they bring the other three veteran quarterbacks (Johnson, Matthews and King) and first-year signal-caller Zolman into the team's mini-camps and training camp. But at some point, the Bucs would have to part ways with at least one of the veteran quarterbacks.
Gruden has stated publicly that he's a big King fan, but Tampa Bay's head coach didn't personally campaign for the former Tulane superstar -- he inherited him.
While Gruden likes veterans, he'd also like a project. That said, there's a strong possibility the Bucs will select a quarterback in the NFL Draft in late April. Some of the quarterbacks the Bucs could have a chance to draft include Brian St. Pierre (Boston College), Kyle Boller (California), Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), Brad Banks (Iowa), Seneca Wallace (Iowa State), Dave Ragone (Louisville), Rob Adisson (Mount Union), Juston Wood (Portland), Chris Simms (Texas), Jason Gesser (Washington State) and Brooks Bollinger (Wisconsin).
It's highly unlikely that the Bucs would keep six quarterbacks on its roster, which means Zolman could be the odd man out if the Bucs draft a quarterback in addition to signing both King and Miller.
Even five quarterbacks could prove to be too many, especially when three of them -- Matthews, Miller and a draft pick or Zolman -- are unfamiliar with Gruden's offensive system and will need as many reps as possible.
We've touched on several different scenarios regarding Tampa Bay's quarterback situation. So, how is it all going to unfold? Contract negotiations between the Bucs and Miller's agent, Joe Linta, have dragged on a while, which makes me think McKay and Co. might be using Miller as leverage to re-sign King for near the league minimum. I'd be surprised if the Bucs decide to sign both King and Miller, but I wouldn't put it past Gruden to convince McKay to get both quarterbacks under contract. If the team is forced to decide on one or the other, I wouldn't be surprised to see them lean toward King, who knows Gruden's system, and is younger (25) and healthier than Miller.