TAMPA — Identifying quarterback talent is not the problem, but the Bucs have never developed a franchise quarterback.
Steve Young won a Super Bowl for the 49ers and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Doug Williams, the closest thing the Bucs had to a franchise QB, was allowed to bolt for the USFL in a contract dispute and won a championship with the Redskins. Trent Dilfer was more of a passenger but won at Super Bowl in Tampa — for the Ravens.
Josh Freeman looked to be that guy. From the end of 2009 until six weeks into the 2011 season, Freeman led the Bucs to 16 wins in 25 games but no playoff appearances. On Nov. 18, 2012, the Bucs were 6-4 and Freeman had enjoyed a passer rating of 100 or better in five of his last six games, with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. Then the wheels came off. Freeman only won one more time before being released three games in the '12 season.
Unfortunately, the Bucs' quarterback history is filled with more wasted high draft picks and misses than hits. The Bucs dealt what turned out to be the first overall pick in 1984 to the Bengals for Jack Thompson, the Throwin' Samoan. His starting stint last only one season. In 1990, the Bucs dealt what turned out to be the second overall selection in '92 to the Colts for Chris Chandler, who was insurance against a Vinny Testaverde meltdown. The rest of Bucs' quarterback history is filled with average or below players such as Steve DeBerg (twice), Craig Erickson, Casey Weldon, Shaun King, Chris Simms, Brian Griese, Byron Leftwich, both McCowns, Luke and Josh, and Mike Glennon.
Ironically, the quarterback who got it done was Brad Johnson, drafted in the ninth round of the '92 draft by the Vikings and signed by Tony Dungy in 2001 as a free agent from the Redskins. Johnson passed for 3,049 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in 13 starts during the regular season in 2002, leading the Bucs to a Super Bowl XXXVII title. He was gone three years later.
So Johnson was the most successful quarterback in franchise history but not a franchise quarterback.
Here's really all you need to know: None of those aforementioned signal callers ever signed a long-term contract deal with the Bucs after their rookie deals expired. Sims received an extension after rupturing his spleen, but that always felt more like an injury settlement.
Jamies Winston offers the best hope for a franchise QB. But after two years, the same thing was said about a lot of those players listed above.
"I just think Jameis needs to be the best Jameis he can be," coach Dirk Koetter said. "Jameis is talented enough to be a top-flight quarterback in this league and I've seen him play like it multiple times and when he does, our team is going to do well."
The book on Eli
The Bucs could've picked a better week to be missing both starting linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, who have combined to lead the team in tackles since 2012.
Giants QB Eli Manning does a lot of pre-snap adjustments based on the defense he sees and rookie Kendell Beckwith is expected to be wearing the helmet communicator and responsible for getting the Bucs lined up each play. It's a chess match and Beckwith may be playing checkers.
"Remember, the (communicator) does go up until 15 seconds (on the play clock)," Koetter said. "Smitty (Defensive coordinator Mike Smith) is going to be making the call to whomever has the helmet on. The Giants did run a lot of no huddle last week. And Eli is really good at it. We also can change our disguise. But when there's 15 seconds, if the quarterback wants to change (the play) one more time he can."
The Bucs will play the Patriots Thursday. The good news is they get Doug Martin back. The bad news is he has no time to prepare and will not have played in a game in five weeks.
Because the suspension for drug use was three games and not three weeks, Hurricane Irma pushed his return back a week. Who knows what shape he will be in but it won't be football shape.
Whatever Martin gives the Bucs will be a plus. Tampa Bay is averaging 71.5 yards per game rushing. Last week, RBs combined for eight touches.
"We did run it six out of the first 13 plays of the game," Koetter said. "The key play in the game was five minutes to go in the half — it was 14-3 — we had a wide-open DeSean Jackson that's going to make it 14-10. Instead it's intercepted, they go on a 92-yard drive and it's 21-3. We go in at halftime [and] try to regroup. We come out, we go three and out. They hit a 59-yard touchdown pass. Now it's 28-3 - hard to run the ball after that. You just don't have very many opportunities because you don't have enough possessions."