TAMPA — Jon Gruden pays plenty of lip service to wanting to develop a young quarterback, but his failure to do so in seven seasons speaks for itself.
Under Gruden, the Bucs have acquired veteran quarterbacks via trades, using sixth- (Luke McCown, Tim Rattay) and seventh-round picks (Brian Griese and Jake Plummer). And they used a sixth-rounder on Bruce Gradkowski and a fifth-rounder on Josh Johnson.
Gruden and GM Bruce Allen took control of the draft in 2004 and have acquired 51 players. If developing a young passer was a priority, you bet it would have been accomplished by now.
"It'd be nice to do. I think the highest draft selection we made was Chris (Simms, third round) in the '03 season, I believe," Gruden said. "We did our best to develop him. We got a lot out of Chris; he did some good things here. He had an injury.
"We had Brad Johnson win a world championship here. We've had some issues at other positions that we've needed to address. … So it's been a little bit harder than it appears. It's hard to find a guy unless you take him early sometimes. … I'm all for trying to find a young guy, a blue-chip stallion, and we'll continue to do that."
The fact is Gruden doesn't buy green bananas. He prefers 30-something quarterbacks because that's what his system is best suited for. But in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, the Bucs need a young quarterback to build the franchise around. Gruden is very defensive on the topic.
"I started Bruce Gradkowski for 11 games," he said. "I started Chris Simms for 15 games. … And I came here and Brad (Johnson) was here, and I made the best of that situation. I tried to develop Shaun King. So did some other teams in the league. It didn't work out. I did my best."
So how will the Bucs be better in 2009? Through free agency and the draft?
In free agency under the Gruden and Allen, the Bucs have signed 33 unrestricted or restricted players since 2004. Of those, 17 were not on the opening day roster in 2008, meaning they had since been released or placed on injured reserve. Only one, QB Jeff Garcia, has been named to the Pro Bowl.
So how have they done in the draft? Fifty-one players have been acquired, either college selections or veterans via trading picks, since '04. Of those, eight players started consistently for the Bucs last season. Fifteen others were primarily backups, and 28 (55 percent) are no longer with the team.
Start with depth on the defensive line. DT Dre Moore, whom the team traded up for in the fourth round in April, didn't make the team. Greg Peterson, a fifth-rounder in '07, rarely has played. No player from the 2006 draft selected after the third round is with the club.
Finding a young QB in free agency will be tough. The Patriots plan to franchise Matt Cassel. It's unlikely the Eagles will cut ties with Donovan McNabb. The Browns might trade Derek Anderson for a king's ransom. Unless a team wants reclamation projects like the 49ers' Alex Smith or the Bears' Rex Grossman, it is out of luck.
For the Bucs, only Griese and Josh Johnson are under contract. So that leaves them looking at their free agents — Garcia and McCown. Garcia will be 39, and McCown will test the market. Gruden says he would like to re-sign Garcia. It's hard to believe him until you realize the options aren't good.
"He's not as young as he used to be, but he's still one hell of a competitor and a fine quarterback," Gruden said.
Stat of the week: Unofficially, Gruden made 26 references to injuries in his final news conference that lasted 25 minutes. The Raiders, at 4-11, were missing a Pro Bowl corner and their leading pass rusher, were down to their third running back, traveled three time zones and battled back from 10-points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Bucs. Give it a rest.