DANA POINT, Calif. — Luke McCown won't have to spend much more time looking over his shoulder pads to see if Jay Cutler is headed to Tampa Bay.
If the NFL annual meetings are any indication, the Bucs will check out of the St. Regis Monarch Resort and Spa this week convinced that the Broncos plan to hold onto their 25-year-old franchise quarterback.
Broncos coach Josh McDaniels told the NFL Network on Monday that Cutler is "our quarterback. Period."
That's okay with Bucs coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, who plan to add a fourth quarterback through the draft or free agency.
They believe a solid starter will emerge from the group that already includes McCown, Brian Griese and Josh Johnson. And if you don't think the Bucs can win with McCown, expect an argument from Dominik.
"It's hard to say that," Dominik said Monday. "You go back to his first five starts, he was a rookie in Cleveland at the end of the season playing in Cleveland conditions in a hard situation. And he's had one opportunity to be a starter here. He was productive when he did play for us, but that was a completely different system. But when he did play for us, he showed you he was willing to take shots down the field. So he gave you some pieces that says, yeah, he deserves a chance."
McCown is 1-6 as a starter in his career and threw one regular-season pass last season as the backup to Jeff Garcia and Griese. But Dominik believes he is a better fit for the system under new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski that emphasizes a strong running game and play-action passes.
"You've got to put together what we're going to ask the quarterback to do in our system and what we think that quarterback can do," Dominik said. "We wouldn't have any of them if we didn't think they had a real good chance to ascend, especially with the two younger guys, with Luke and Josh."
Morris says the quarterback who emerges with the job in September will have earned the full support of his team. "Let the guy earn his spot, people will respect it more, he'll respect it more and people will look him in the eye, shake his hand and tell him, 'Hey, you're the guy,' and they'll feel good about it, whomever that guy is," Morris said.
Dominik has been general manager for less than 40 days and has released iconic players like Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, managed $61 million of cap space, re-signed the majority of the team's free agents, traded two picks to Cleveland for Kellen Winslow and investigated a three-way deal to obtain Cutler.
Being around the organization for 14 seasons made the transition easier, Dominik said.
"You're able to put your plan together easier, even though it might not be the most popular plan at the time," Dominik said. "That helped in that process in terms of being within the organization and certainly seeing it from multiple head coaches and GM's eyes and seeing how they all have worked throughout the building. I've gone back to that a lot, but people forget that I got to work with Lovie Smith and he has a different approach than Herm Edwards, who has a different approach than Tony (Dungy). But I think all those combined made it a little bit more prepared to step into where we are today."
Despite owning the most cap space in the NFL, Dominik said he didn't feel pressure to make a big splash in free agency.
"A lot of our mind-set is that we still have players on this team that we don't want to see become free agents one day," Dominik said. "That's important, but I think what the public and the fans need to know is that there are players on this team we don't ever want to become the free agent for somebody else, and you have to budget that accordingly.
"Just because you have the money doesn't mean you should just go spend it."
Dominik says it's too early to predict how competitive the Bucs will be in 2009. He said free agent pursuits are mostly finished and the focus is on the draft.
"When the fans go out on Sunday and they're watching the Buccaneers, they're excited about watching the team and they like the direction we're headed," Dominik said. "Right now, Raheem and I feel comfortable with the direction we're headed."