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Bucs have history of giving up on first-round QBs, usually too quickly

By Rick Stroud
CHRIS URSO | Times A trashcan is seen filled with photos of past Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday, Nov. 03, 2017 in St. Petersburg. This is for a photo illustration.


From Doug Williams to Steve Young to Vinny Testaverde to Trent Dilfer to Josh Freeman. All were quarterbacks taken in the first round by the Bucs. All were discarded by Tampa Bay before they reached their prime. Williams, Young and Dilfer won Super Bowls for other teams. Testaverde played 20 seasons and made it to an AFC Championship Game with the Jets. Young has a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Freeman was the only pure bust. Here’s what led to their one-way ticket out of Tampa.

DOUG WILLIAMS

College: Grambling State

NFL draft: 1978, Round 1/ Pick No. 17

BUCS DAYS: Joe Gibbs, the Bucs offensive coordinator at the time, spent two days with Williams at Grambling and convinced Tampa Bay to draft him. He came to a team that had won two games the first two years of the franchise. Williams was also the only African-American starter at QB in the NFL at that time and not embraced by everyone.

Williams led the Bucs to the playoffs three times in four years, including the NFC Championship Game against the Rams in the 1979 season. He was the heart and soul of the team but also earned $100,000 a year, less than 12 backup QBs at the time.

WHY IT ENDED: After the 1982 season Williams got into a contract dispute with skinflint owner Hugh Culverhouse. Williams wanted $600,000 a year. Mr. C wouldn’t budge from his $400,000 per year offer. Williams had enough and bolted for the Oklahoma Outlaws of the United States Football League.

POST-BUCS ACCOMPLISHMENT: After the USFL folded, Williams reunited with Gibbs, the Washington head coach. Williams was primarily the backup for Jay Schroeder during the 1987 season. But Gibbs chose him to be the QB during the playoffs.

Williams engineered a 42-10 rout of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. Williams completed 18 of 29 passes for 340 yards, with four touchdown passes and was named Super Bowl MVP. He is in both the Washington and Bucs Ring of Honor.

STEVE YOUNG

College: Brigham Young

NFL draft: 1984, Round 1/Pick No. 1 in supplemental draft of USFL/CFL players (signed with Bucs in 1985).

BUCS DAYS: Young signed a $40 million contract to play for the Los Angeles Express in 1984. But the owner filed for bankruptcy after a year. Tampa Bay was 1-10 when Young became the 13th starting quarterback in the franchise’s 10-year history and the fifth in the past four years. He started the last five games, completing 52 percent of his passes while throwing for three TDs and eight INTs.

Remarkably, he lost the starting job the next year to Steve DeBerg but got the job back after a 0-2 start and nine INTs.

WHY IT ENDED: The Bucs posted consecutive 2-14 seasons with Young going 3-16. He had 11 touchdowns and 21 INTs. Coach Leeman Bennett was fired and Ray Perkins wanted to use the first overall pick in 1987 on Miami Heisman Trophy-winning QB Vinny Testaverde.

Young was reckless and more of a runner than a passer. Nonetheless, 49ers coach Bill Walsh saw something he needed. He was impressed with Young’s skill set, while the Bucs thought he ran too much and was undisciplined.

So the Bucs traded him for a second-rounder, a fourth-rounder and cash.

POST-BUCS ACCOMPLISHMENT: Young was Joe Montana’s backup from 1987-90. Young got his shot when Montana suffered a season-ending elbow injury. By the start of the ’92 season, Young was the starter and became the NFL’s MVP. Montana left for the Chiefs. Six times Young led the NFL in passer rating. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl player and became the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX.

VINNY TESTAVERDE

College: Miami

NFL draft: 1987, Round 1/Pick No. 1

BUCS DAYS: Testaverde came to the Bucs with all the hope and hype surrounding a Heisman Trophy-winner QB. But Perkins’ abrasive coaching style was all wrong for Testaverde. He became a full-time starter in his second season and completed 47.6 percent of his passes for 3,240 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had 35 INTs.

WHY IT ENDED: He received a ton of ridicule from fans after sharing that he was color-blind. A radio station paid for a billboard with Testaverde standing in front of a blue background that read ‘‘Vinny thinks this is orange.’’ Testaverde played for seven years and three head coaches and left after the ’92 season for Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns.

POST-BUCS ACCOMPLISHMENT:

Testaverde played for 21 seasons and seven teams. He passed for more than 46,000 yards. In 1998, his first year with the hometown Jets, he completed 61.5 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 101.6 passer rating. The Jets’ 1998 season finished with Testaverde losing to John Elway and the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.

TRENT DILFER

College: Fresno State

NFL draft: 1994, Round 1/Pick No. 6

BUCS DAYS: Sam Wyche was the Bucs’ coach/GM and had no designs on drafting a quarterback. He was happy with a reclamation project such as Miami QB Craig Erickson but could not ignore Dilfer when he fell to them in the first round.

It was a rocky relationship from the start. Dilfer played sparingly as a rookie and struggled when the job was handed to him. Wyche was replaced by Tony Dungy. Dilfer threw four TD passes and 18 interceptions. But the next year, the Bucs drafted Warrick Dunn to go with Mike Alstott and an improving defense enabled Dilfer to play well enough to become the first Bucs’ QB to be named to the Pro Bowl.

WHY IT ENDED: The Bucs simply didn’t score enough points with Dilfer under center. Dilfer broke his collarbone with five games remaining in the ’99 season and was replaced by Shaun King, who helped them to the NFC title game with the Rams. After six seasons, Dilfer signed with the Ravens to back up Tony Banks.

POST-BUCS ACCOMPLISHMENT: The 2000 Ravens had one of the best defenses in NFL history. But they couldn’t score an offensive touchdown. Dilfer took over near midseason and helped them to a 7-1 run which also gave him a 45-39 record as a starter at that point.

It was serendipitous that Dilfer got to play in Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. He had only 12 completions for 153 yards and one TD. He was more of a passenger on that ride, but he will always be a Super Bowl winning QB. Dilfer played 14 seasons with stops with the Seahawks, Browns and 49ers.

JOSH FREEMAN

College: Kansas State

NFL draft: 2009, Round 1/Pick No. 17

BUCS DAYS: New coach Raheem Morris had been a defensive coordinator at K-State and knew Freeman as a 19-year-old freshman. He believed in the kid. The Bucs wanted to bring him along slowly and engaged in an insane training camp battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown. Freeman didn’t become the team’s full-time starter until his second season.

In a remarkable performance, Freeman led the Bucs to a 10-6 record in 2010, barely missing the playoffs. He was also named as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.

At one point, the Bucs had a 16-9 run with Freeman under center. But after a 4-2 start in 2011, the Bucs lost 10 straight to end the season and Morris was fired.

WHY IT ENDED: Freeman had some personal issues and he also never meshed with the authoritarian style of new coach Greg Schiano. He had a good early run in his first season under Schiano and was 6-4 to start 2012 until losing six in a row.

The next year, there was talk of Schiano rigging the captain’s vote, a facility with MRSA, Freeman sleeping in and eventually him asking for and getting his release after three games.

POST-BUCS ACCOMPLISHMENT: Freeman had a meltdown performance with Minnesota on a Monday Night Football game and a cup of coffee with the Giants, Colts and Dolphins. He tried the Fall Experimental Football League and the CFL. After seven seasons, his career was over.