TAMPA — Luke McCown always had the arm, the size and the speed to be a starting NFL quarterback.
What he needed was a new pair of eyes to evaluate him.
New Bucs coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik envision McCown as their quarterback of the future. That's why they signed the 27-year-old to a two-year, $7.5 million contract, announced Monday, that will guarantee him $5 million in 2009.
With an assurance he will compete for the starting job, McCown decided to forgo a chance to become a free agent Feb. 27.
"It was made clear to me over the process, over the weekend and today, that I was going to get a shot to compete to be the starter and the leader of this team, and that's all I asked for, and I'm excited for that chance," McCown said Monday.
The move means the Bucs might not be interested in re-signing Jeff Garcia, who will be 39 and is set to become a free agent. Brian Griese and rookie Josh Johnson are the only other quarterbacks under contract. Griese is scheduled to earn $1.8 million next season and has a $300,000 roster bonus.
McCown said he was unaware of which, if any quarterbacks, the Bucs planned for him to compete with next season.
"I was looking for somebody, be it Mark or Raheem — and it turned out it was both — to show that confidence in me, that they were willing to give me a chance, that they see the potential I have to be a starter and not just a guy to hold down the position but lead the team for a couple of years," McCown said. "That's what I was looking for, someone to show me that support, and once I saw that, it was a no-brainer for me."
In many ways, McCown seemed miscast in Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Generally regarded as one of the best athletes on the team, he has a strong arm.
But in four seasons with the Bucs, McCown played just seven games with three starts, all in 2007. For his career he is 1-6 as a starter (including a stint in Cleveland) with a rating of 75.2.
In Tampa Bay, McCown has completed 94-of-140 passes (67.1 percent) for 1,009 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions for a rating of 91.0.
McCown spent most of last season as the No. 2 quarterback. But when Garcia was unable to play in a critical game at Atlanta in December, Gruden bypassed McCown in favor of Griese. The Bucs went on to end the season on a four-game losing streak.
"Very surprised. Very disappointed," McCown said of not playing. "But I'm not one, again, that would sit and throw my hands in the air and say, 'I quit,' or complain," McCown said " … I know there were several of my teammates after the game, some of them captains on this team, that asked me, 'What was the deal? Why didn't you get to play?' I said, 'I don't know. Nobody really told me why.' "
McCown's contract is virtually identical to the deal Garcia signed in 2007. It includes a $2.5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $2.5 million in '09 and '10. Based on play time incentives, the contract could be worth as much as $14 million.
Under new coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, McCown said he believes the Bucs will run a hybrid version of the West Coast offense with more emphasis on downfield passing.
"There's no question in my mind, I'm ready to compete," McCown said. "I didn't bother to ask who, if anybody else, they were targeting (at quarterback). That didn't matter to me. I'm going to do everything I can to be the leader of this team and take us back to the playoffs. I think my teammates know that. I think everybody knows I just needed a chance."
McCown said he probably would not have returned had Gruden remained the coach.
"If they wanted me back, I'm not sure how that would've worked out," McCown said.