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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sign backup QB Dan Orlovsky

TAMPA — Day 3 of free agency for the Bucs didn't produce more blockbuster signings with eye-popping, eight-figure salaries.

But Tampa Bay made a move Thursday of some consequence, signing backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky to a two-year contract.

Orlovsky, 28, becomes the primary backup for franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, a critical role given how closely Freeman is linked to the Bucs' fortunes. Orlovsky's $2.5 million deal effectively eliminates any chance of the team retaining Josh Johnson, the primary backup the past four seasons who became a free agent this week and hopes to land in a more competitive QB situation.

But if Johnson, 25, fails to find an ideal spot, he seems to have one fewer option in Tampa Bay. In Orlovsky, the Bucs acquired a player who is just 2-10 as a starter but has a bit more experience than Johnson, including some promising appearances last season.

It was Orlovsky who finally led the Colts to consecutive wins in December, their only victories in a 2-14 season. In those wins against the Titans and Texans, he completed a combined 34 of 57 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Orlovsky has been relegated to mostly losing teams in his seven-year career, playing his first four seasons in Detroit, where he was a fifth-round pick in 2005 out of Connecticut. He signed with the Texans in 2009, before joining the Colts last season.

But he has managed a positive career touchdown-to-interception ratio (14-12) with a 75.9 passer rating. He went 0-7 as a starter with the 0-16 Lions in 2008, but Orlov­sky has played in various systems and has been competitive despite minimal practice time.

Meanwhile, Johnson, the Bucs' fifth-round pick out of San Diego in 2008, likely has his heart set on finding a situation that will allow him to compete for playing time. It was a virtual certainty he would remain behind Freeman, but his 0-5 mark as a starter didn't help his cause.

Still, Johnson could attract interest once the quarterback market settles. Important dominoes have yet to fall, including decisions by free agents Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn. Where they go will clarify several teams' quarterback situations, including a team such as the Broncos, which would make some sense for Johnson. Denver is among the teams pursuing Manning.

With the Bucs, Johnson appeared, mostly sparingly, in 26 games, completing 96 of 177 passes for 1,042 yards. He threw five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In his most recent start, a loss to Carolina on Dec. 4, Johnson was 16 of 27 for 229 yards, one TD and one interception.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @holderstephen.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sign backup QB Dan Orlovsky 03/15/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 8:53pm]
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