LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Buccaneers never got around to saying what price they would pay for Brett Favre in 2008. My suspicion is it has already cost them Jeff Garcia in 2009.
Frankly, that should be today's worry. That this supposedly casual flirtation will lead to the end of a marriage that was already heading for trouble.
The Bucs can say what they want. They can insist Garcia is a happy camper. They can pretend all the fellas were laughing about this Brett Favre nonsense in the dining room.
But believe this:
The player most responsible for getting the Bucs into the playoffs last season is ticked off, and he's not going to soon forget the way he was humiliated this week.
Kind of a steep price to pay, wouldn't you agree?
"We're not talking about Tony the Tiger here," coach Jon Gruden said by way of explanation Thursday night. "We're talking about Brett Favre."
Yes, but according to general manager Bruce Allen, the chances of acquiring Favre were, at best, remote. So why take the chance of annoying the one guy on the team you need most?
One way or another, the Bucs blew this.
If they thought Favre was their best chance for success and they had a legitimate chance of landing him, then they were not nearly aggressive enough and the Jets just sucker-punched them.
If they thought Favre was only a marginal upgrade or it would take a miracle to convince Green Bay to trade him to Tampa Bay, then they were foolish for getting caught in the middle of a national drama.
"It was a Catch-(22) situation," Gruden said.
No, it really wasn't.
It's the job of the coach and the general manager to figure out when to take a risk, and when to play it safe. In this case, the risk was not worth the fallout. Not if Allen is telling the truth about how much of a long shot it was for Favre to land in Tampa Bay.
Even Allen had trouble explaining his reasoning. When he first met with reporters Thursday morning, it was like he was answering questions only he could hear.
Why pursue Favre if you had no chance of getting him?
Could you characterize Tampa Bay's interest in Favre?
Okay, maybe it was a little more coherent than that, but the notoriously media-shy Allen volunteered for a second press tour in the afternoon to clarify Tampa Bay's position.
The gist was the Bucs had interest in Favre, but figured he was going to an AFC team. So Allen chose not to make an offer, apparently waiting to see if the Packers would get desperate and Favre would fall in his lap.
That's not a bad strategy except for the fact that we're talking about the NFL's all-time leading passer, and one of the league's most iconic figures. Tampa Bay's interest was bound to make news, and Garcia was bound to hear about it.
And remember, this is a quarterback who was already in a bad mood because he feels he is underpaid.
"I'm sure Jeff wasn't real pleased with the reports and things of that nature," Gruden said. "At the same time, I feel at the end of the day hopefully he will understand. He knows we have a lot of respect for him and hopefully we can get him re-signed to a long-team deal because he's a hell of a quarterback."
I'm not saying you should feel sorry for Garcia. He signed his contract, it's his responsibility to live by it. The man has made a ton of money in this game, and has another $2-million heading his way this year.
But try to think about this from Garcia's standpoint. He chose the Bucs partially because Gruden was head-over-heels giddy about him. So Garcia comes to Tampa Bay and, quite possibly, saves Gruden's job with one of the most impressive performances ever by a Bucs quarterback.
For this, his reward was having the team weasel its way out of $1-million in incentives he deserved, and then embarrass him with this Favre soap opera.
Garcia is hacked, do not kid yourself about that. This may be a business, but it has become personal. His relationship with Gruden is forever fractured, and it's hard to imagine he will want to re-sign after this season.
Allen, in as many words, says nonsense. Garcia, he said, is not angry. And the Bucs are in fine position to get him re-signed if they so desire in the offseason.
"I think Jeff fits this system," Allen said. "He is different than some players in the league. Not having only been in one spot, he has seen if you're not in the right system, you might not flourish. So, no, I think we have a good chance."
Allen suggests one of the reasons he expressed interest in Favre is because quarterback is a unique position that must be treated differently.
If that's the case, he should treat Garcia differently this morning.
Allen should call his quarterback into his office to rip up his 2008 contract and replace it with a one-year deal that at least repays Garcia for the $1-million in incentives he lost due to unusual circumstances in '07.
It would be the first installment in buying back the goodwill the Bucs spent on Favre this week.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]