1. Archive

Leaf IDs himself as Bucs man

His contract restructured, Tampa Bay's new quarterback is ready to restructure his NFL career.

At least he looked a lot like Ryan Leaf.

But the more the Bucs born-to-be-mild quarterback talked Tuesday, the greater the urge to wait for matching fingerprints and two forms of identification.

Once reviled in San Diego, Leaf pronounced his career revived in Tampa Bay.

With his new bride at his side and tailored in a blue shirt and gray jacket, Leaf seemed well-suited in his new role as a backup to Brad Johnson.

"I'm the kind of person that is impatient and wants that instant playing time. But what was the best thing for me in the long run here?" Leaf said, one day after signing a restructured contract that will pay him $10-million in the next three years. "I'd like to rejuvenate my career and this is definitely the place to do it."

"I'm going to have to be patient. That's definitely true. It's never been a strong suit for me, but I think when you're winning and have a chance to play in the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl that takes the edge off. When you're sitting on the bench and losing, you feel like you could be doing something."

The Bucs claimed the former Charger off waivers March 2, ending a tumultuous three seasons for the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Three days later, the Bucs signed Johnson to a five-year, $28-million contract, souring Leaf on a future with Tampa Bay.

Leaf was given the option of being released. He said he did not believe he would ever play for the Bucs when he landed in Tampa on Thursday.

"I kind of had my mind made up that I wasn't going to be a Buccaneer when I came out here," Leaf said. "But that quickly changed."

After meeting Bucs vice presidents Joel and Bryan Glazer, coach Tony Dungy and several members of his staff, Leaf said he "felt something that hadn't really been there since my rookie year," and even liked the antiquated feel of the team's cramped training facility.

"I'm glad everything got done early because I'm ready to be here in the off-season program and work with our strength coaches and our trainers and develop into the player I know I can be."

It's uncertain what role Leaf will play next season, but he has been promised a chance to compete with Shaun King for the No. 2 spot behind Johnson. The restructured contract will pay Leaf about $1.5-million each of the next two seasons with his salary jumping to $7-million in 2003. The new deal lowered Leaf's salary-cap figure from $2.8-million in 2001 to $1.1-million.

"I asked Ryan, "Where are you right now? What in the next couple years would you like to do?" Dungy said. "And then number two, if you end up having to be the second quarterback, or the third quarterback, how do you think you're going to respond to that? Do you have to get to a place where you're guaranteed to start or are you okay with the competition and letting it play itself out and seeing who the best man is. So we discussed both those issues and he was forthright about what he wanted to do. Basically, he said, "if the situation is fair and I wind up being second or third, I won't be happy about it, but I'll be able to deal with it.' "

Leaf, who went 4-14 as a starter with the Chargers with 33 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes in three seasons, said he hopes to learn from Johnson.

"I have Brad (Johnson) here who I can really develop behind," Leaf said. "I think he's a guy who has proven himself in this league and a guy I can learn a lot from. I'm going to prepare like I'm the No. 1 guy, whatever role that might be.

"They used a very good example down here. Steve Young went to San Francisco and won a Super Bowl on the bench. But then when he got on the field, he won one as a starter. This team has that capability and I don't see it going down any time soon."

Leaf had other options. The Cowboys contacted the Bucs about trading for Leaf last week. But general manager Rich McKay said dealing Leaf was never the Bucs' intention.

"He had a lot of things going on and was hearing from a lot of different opinions about what was best for Ryan Leaf," McKay said.

"I think what we wanted was just the opportunity to bring him into town and show him what we were about, and how we do business. Was I confident he would see it our way? I don't know. Probably not. Probably 50-50."

Instead, Leaf headed to the NFC outpost that was the farthest from San Diego and his problems with the Chargers.

"I think in San Diego, I made a lot of mistakes," Leaf said. "And they made a lot of mistakes as well. It's in the past and I've learned a lot from it and I think it'll help me in the future.

"I think the quarterback of a team that goes 1-15, a lot of blame gets put on him and rightfully so. I probably handled some things wrong. But this is a new start, this is a new opportunity for me and it won't take long of me being here day in and day out for people to start thinking maybe some of the things they read out there were wrong. But that's my job to turn it around."

RICE UPDATE: The Bucs believe they could have an agreement on a long-term contract with Cardinals defensive end Simeon Rice by the end of the week.

The Bucs cleared $2.5-million of salary-cap room for Rice on Monday by trading linebacker Jeff Gooch to the Rams and restructuring Leaf's contract.

The two sides discussed a one-year deal, with Rice re-entering free agency next spring. But the Bucs insist on a four- or five-year deal.