Buccaneers still weighing many options at quarterback
Not so fast.
For the past several days, and seemingly for the past couple of weeks, there's been an assumption in these parts that the Buccaneers will address their quarterback situation in a predictable way. That is, that Byron Leftwich, the apparent leader in the starting race, will be No. 1, followed by Luke McCown and first-round pick Josh Freeman.
But it's becoming clear the Bucs are still considering their options, and everything remains on the table. Yes, Leftwich is the leader in the position battle and appears likely to win the job unless he takes a huge backward step Saturday night at Jacksonville. But beyond that, things might not necessarily go according to the script.
The key here is Josh Johnson. He has impressed coaches with his performance in his limited snaps during training camp, and he certainly did nothing to hurt his case to make the roster with his performance against the Titans last Saturday. It's enough to give coaches and the front office reason to pause when deciding his ultimate fate.
We know the Bucs have said they plan to keep just three of their four quarterbacks. So, they have some decisions to make. Here are some possible outcomes:
- The Bucs could make an effort to trade one of their quarterbacks. The theory is that Johnson would have the most trade value because of his perceived upside. But if McCown were the loser of the battle with Leftwich, it's conceivable Tampa Bay could make an attempt to move him instead. That would make some sense because McCown (or Leftwich, if McCown is named the starter) doesn't seem to have a role here long term. Josh Freeman will eventually be the starter and Johnson has intriguing potential. The compelling argument against this is that if the starter sustained an injury, the Bucs would be left with a quarterback under center who has never taken a regular-season snap.
- Another potential option would be to release the loser of the battle between the veterans. That would involve eating some signing bonus money in the case of McCown ($2.5 million), but this can't yet be ruled out just yet.
- And, finally, the Bucs could attempt to recoup a draft pick for Johnson rather than cut him outright. He is more tradeable because his small salary is more manageable than McCown's $5 million base. And receiving something in return would allow the Bucs to save face in the event Johnson goes on to have a legitimate future in the league. No one wants to be the guy who cut the player who turns out to be the next big thing.
Whatever the decision, we should all be careful not to assume anything about the Bucs' plans at quarterback. Any front office worth a darn deliberates over each and every decision, especially when it involves the game's most important position.
This much we know: Quarterback has been a main storyline in Tampa this preseason, and it will continue to be so during the next few weeks.