Garcia vs. Bruce: who blinks first?
The more I think about this Jeff Garcia contract dispute, the more difficult it becomes to guess how it will end.
He clearly is peeved about the situation as we told you earlier today. And there are still more comments that you can read tomorrow in the newspaper (or online, if you prefer), like this very telling statement about how this might potentially affect things on the field for him and others, like Earnest Graham.
"I understand (general manager Bruce Allen) kind of has us in a tough situation because we're under contract and we're obligated to play," Garcia said. "But we also understand what kind of contributions we made on the field last year and where people at our positions are getting paid and where we're at. So, it just makes it a real difficult thing to overcome when you think about your emotional and mental approach every day. That's when you can become almost negative and counterproductive to what the focus of the team is because you're caught up in some of the negative situations that are going on above you."
I'm not sure he even took a breath while spitting out that mouthful. But seriously, this isn't a healthy situation. Clearly, it needs to end. But right now, it sure feels like a resolution is a long way off.
So, let's look at the two sides of this coin.
Garcia clearly was the difference in the team last year. He certainly got my vote in the media poll for team MVP. He is the most talented quarterback on the roster, even if he is the oldest. Besides, he didn't play like he was 37 last year, did he? And, of course, as we told you long ago, he is understandably upset about missing out on the incentive money he likely would have qualified for had Jon Gruden not benched him for the final six quarters of 2007. Maybe Gruden should reimburse Garcia seeing how the coach earned his rich contract extension in part because of his quarterback's play. Just a thought.
Now, let's play devil's advocate. (And for you conspiracy theorists who think we have a grudge against anyone employed by the Bucs, no, that's not my subtle way of calling Allen the devil! Besides, Garcia pretty much did that already.) As I was saying, the Bucs have a compelling case, too. Garcia's age is his worst enemy. Any contract renegotiation is likely to include an additional year, if for no other reason than to lessen the salary-cap hit. How much would you be comfortable committing to a 38-year-old quarterback?
Furthermore, the injury risk is very real with Garcia. He's rarely come through a season wire to wire in his career, even going back to San Francisco. Last year was no different. And we're not just talking about the back injury that cost him nearly three games. Don't forget he was knocked out (literally) of the Seattle game at a very critical time, giving way to Luke McCown who managed to squander the Bucs' chances in what was a close game at the time. When a guy takes as many hits as Garcia, his health is always going to be a primary concern.
Lastly, the Bucs know for Garcia, it's quite possibly their way or the highway. Unlike a player such as Chad Johnson, who also wants to get paid, there would not be great demand for Garcia -- at least as a starter -- on the open market. In fact, there wasn't that big of a market for him in 2007 when he signed with the Bucs. That's part of the reason they got him on the cheap.
Hopefully that adds some context to this story. Now, as for who's right and who's wrong, well, that's an unanswerable question. If you ask me what the outcome should be, I suggest that the sides find a workable compromise. Maybe Garcia gets a small raise but agrees to a contract structure that is team-friendly.
Those answers are best determined by people who make a lot more than I do. But this much I know: this needs to get settled sooner rather than later because it will only get uglier. The longer this drags out, the higher the stakes become. Garcia puts possibly the last season of his career in jeopardy. The Bucs will be in danger of having their starting quarterback hold out. Neither is a good option.
Cooler heads need to prevail here -- and fast.