TAMPA — Quarterback Jeff Garcia wanted to finish his career in Tampa Bay. Having played for five teams in six years, his legs were tired of scrambling from one NFL city to another.
That was why the failed attempt to have his contract extended a year ago was so bothersome to the vagabond veteran.
"The team has gone through so many changes at the quarterback position the last 10 or 12 years, if not the history of the organization," Garcia said. "I thought it would be nice to have some consistency and a face you put with the position. Yes, I'm older in age, but I feel I can still compete and produce at a high level."
He just won't be doing it in a Bucs uniform.
Garcia, who turns 39 three days before the start of free agency Feb. 27, said Sunday night that Bucs general manager Mark Dominik has informed his agent, Steve Baker, that the team did not want him to return for a third season.
"My time in Tampa has come to an end," Garcia said.
The wall-writing was there to read last week after the Bucs signed quarterback Luke McCown to a two-year, $7.5 million contract, preventing him from becoming a free agent. The Bucs also have quarterbacks Brian Griese and Josh Johnson under contract.
"I'm not under contract and I'm about to hit free agency and that means it's time again for me to just move on," Garcia said. "It is disappointing because I enjoyed the atmosphere and the team environment in that locker room. … Change is needed at times. Sometimes it's how you tweak it, not change it. With a new head coach, they want somebody pulling the trigger that they can mold. Beyond that, I don't know why they're making the move."
Garcia went 14-10 in 24 starts during the regular season with the Bucs the past two seasons, leading Tampa Bay to a playoff appearance in 2007 and earning his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl while throwing 13 touchdowns and four interceptions.
But last season, a calf injury sustained in training camp led to his benching after a season-opening loss at New Orleans. Garcia regained the job in the second quarter of the season and finished with an 8-5 record.
After a 9-3 start, Tampa Bay lost its final four games in December, including one that Garcia missed at Atlanta because of a leg injury. Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were fired Jan. 17 after failing to reach the playoffs.
At the time of Gruden's firing, Garcia said he believed a change was needed. But he says Gruden pushed him to become a better quarterback in two seasons with the Bucs.
"I think in many ways, Jon has received somewhat of a bad rap after all that's been said and done after his firing," Garcia said. "To the quarterback room, he brought a lot of knowledge and definitely brought enthusiasm every single day. He challenged me as a player to find ways to better myself. That was on a daily basis. … That's something I needed as a quarterback. He can be draining because of his energy level and approach. It can zap you at times if you don't know how to handle it.
"I think that's where young players do have a hard time in dealing with Jon because of his expectations and the maturity you have to have in order to deal with his intensity and emotions."
Garcia says he wants to continue his career and believes he will get another opportunity when the free-agent signing period begins. The Vikings, 49ers and Bears are in the market for a veteran quarterback.
"I do feel like I have football life in me," Garcia said. "I feel I can still contribute. I'm not sure what my role will be with another team. I'm not looking at it like I need to start and be the man. Hopefully, I'll have some opportunities out there. I'm pretty sure there's going to be something out there for me.
"I think what started in Philly (in the 2006 season) and continued in Tampa was the rejuvenation of me and the fire coming back and the excitement of the game and the thrill of playing the game again. I had a great time playing in front of those fans in Tampa. We'll miss Tampa."