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Bucs wait for Griese to reply to offer

The Bucs are applying pressure to the quarterback _ theirs.

In an effort to quickly lock up Brian Griese for next season, the team has made its first proposal on a contract extension for its 29-year-old starter.

Terms were not disclosed, but general manager Bruce Allen has been "regularly in contact" with Griese's agent, Ralph Cindrich, in hopes of completing a deal as early as next week.

Meanwhile, Griese is waiting to see whether the Bucs view him as a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.

The only way to ensure that is for Griese to seek a deal that gives him the nod from coach Jon Gruden over 24-year-old Chris Simms.

"We have to see if we're on the same page conceptually," Cindrich said Friday.

"I think it's a good situation for both Brian and the Bucs. He has a tremendous amount of respect for Jon Gruden and what he has learned playing for him. Brian really enjoys the cerebral part of playing in that offense."

Although Griese is under contract to the Bucs, it is far from a lock that the team will retain him. Griese, who played for $950,000 last season, is owed a $6-million roster bonus by March 1 and a $2-million base salary under the terms of his current deal.

The list of suitors for Griese potentially could grow if he does not agree to restructure the remaining two years of his contract and becomes a free agent.

Griese began the season as the No. 3 quarterback and did not play until Week 5 at New Orleans, after Brad Johnson had been benched and Simms had injured his shoulder.

The Bucs won four of Griese's first six games. He finished tops in the NFL with a club-record 69.3 completion percentage and third in the NFC with a 97.5 passer rating, topping Johnson's 92.9 during the Super Bowl season in 2002-03.

Griese also threw 20 touchdowns in 11 games. But he struggled to protect the football late in the season. Eleven of his 12 interceptions came in the final seven games he played _ he was inactive in the season finale against the Cardinals because of a strained hip _ and two were returned for game-clinching scores.

"Brian in the right system is obviously extremely productive in what he's doing," Allen said. "So much of a quarterback's play is predicated on other people performing their jobs. I think you can win with Brian Griese, yeah."

But first, the Bucs have to make sure he is under contract next season.

The Bucs are currently $14-million over the projected $85.5-million salary cap for 2005.

But Tampa Bay can make a dent in that deficit by releasing Johnson, who counts $8.55-million against the cap, before March 1. By cutting him, the Bucs absorb $4.3-million in accelerated signing bonus money but save $4.25-million.

It's apparent the Bucs would prefer not to make Griese one of the league's highest-paid quarterbacks. But Griese is seeking a deal that would guarantee him "starter's" money.

Griese probably would seek a contract similar to the one signed by Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins, a three-year, $12-million deal, and Mark Brunell's seven-year, $43-million pact with the Redskins that included an $8.6-million signing bonus.

Allen wanted to negotiate a new deal for Griese during the season, but Griese preferred to wait until the Bucs were through playing.

Cindrich said if no agreement is reached soon, he plans to meet with Allen at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

"We're just beginning to form the concept of what we're going to do," Cindrich said.