CELEBRATION — Jon Gruden has always liked his quarterbacks to be fast on their feet.
But it was the Bucs coach who did a lot of scrambling Friday.
With Jeff Garcia three time zones away, Gruden attempted to sidestep questions about Tampa Bay's interest in Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
He said the speculation was unfair to the Bucs' starter but refused to take advantage of several chances to end it.
"I'm never going to be the guy that puts his foot down and says we're going to do this," Gruden said. "I work with people. Until we get together and see what the issues are at hand, we'll address it (when the time comes). But as I sit here today, Jeff Garcia is our quarterback, and I'm very excited about that."
Garcia, 38, is attending a 35-year reunion of a junior college national championship team coached by his dad in Gilroy, Calif., and received permission to miss workouts today and Sunday.
Friday's reporting date for players to the Celebration Hotel dawned amid reports that the Jets and Bucs had expressed an interest in exploring a trade for Favre, who announced his retirement March 6 but recently has had second thoughts.
Although Favre has not officially asked the NFL for reinstatement, he told the Packers he plans to report to training camp Sunday. That apparently intensified efforts by Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson to seek a trading partner because the team is determined to move forward with Aaron Rodgers as its starting quarterback.
The Jets reportedly received permission to talk to Favre, with quarterback Chad Pennington telling the Associated Press that general manager Mike Tannenbaum told him the team has talked to the Packers about Favre.
The Bucs have five quarterbacks under contract. But apparently, they would consider swapping one 38-year-old passer for another if Favre were willing to play in Tampa Bay.
It's a delicate situation for the Bucs, who don't want to anger Garcia after he led them to an NFC South title and was named to the Pro Bowl last season. But he is in the final year of his contract that pays $2.5-million and is upset about the lack of progress toward an extension.
"Brett Favre is under contract, my last understanding, with the Green Bay Packers," Gruden said. "We're just excited about our quarterbacks. Jeff Garcia will be here Sunday night. … I don't know how many more quarterbacks we can use at this point, but I don't have any news on Brett Favre's situation."
Tampa Bay has the salary cap room to absorb Favre's $12-million salary, but he might have trouble picking up Gruden's version of the West Coast offense.
The flirtation might also irritate Garcia, though Gruden said he's not worried about that the mind-set of his veteran signal-caller.
"I don't think so," Gruden said. "But at the same time, Bill Cowher's available, and they might want to bring in Bill Cowher. There's been plenty of speculation about all of us at some point in time. But the things I know about Jeff, he cares and he is going to play his butt off and he's one hell of a quarterback and he proved that last year."
Another quarterback with something to prove is Chris Simms, who was unavailable for comment Friday. Simms has asked to be traded or released but instead will be taking reps behind Brian Griese, Luke McCown and rookie Josh Johnson this weekend.
Meanwhile, several Bucs players expressed bemusement about all the reports surrounding Favre.
But many said they supported Garcia.
"His performance was inspirational," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "He lifted our team to a whole other level."
But apparently, it wasn't enough to prevent the Bucs from looking into Favre's situation.
"His accomplishments speak for themselves," Gruden said of Favre. "But the last I checked, he was a Green Bay Packer, has been and probably will be for the rest of his career. That's about all I can say. When you're talking about a guy who is a sure-fire Hall of Famer going through this strange period in his career, there's going to be speculation, and people have their work to do reporting it."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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