The Bucs' dire salary cap situation might leave them no choice but to turn to Chris Simms, who has started just 13 games at quarterback.
That would be okay with coach Jon Gruden, who is prepared to pin the 2006 season on the 25-year-old if necessary.
"He went 5-1 (in the NFC South) and won some big games down the stretch," Gruden said Saturday at the scouting combine. "I was really impressed with the strides that he made and the poise that he showed after a horrific start, a rough start. He showed me a lot. He showed the whole league a lot."
The biggest dilemma facing the Bucs is if they can keep Simms and veteran Brian Griese.
Simms is almost certain to receive a $2-million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent before Friday's deadline. That would give the Bucs the right to match any proposal he receives or receive a first- and third-round pick as compensation.
Several meetings between general manager Bruce Allen and agent Tom Condon over the past few days have failed to produce a long-term contract for Simms.
Griese is owed a $2.6-million roster bonus the Bucs don't intend to pay because his salary cap value will increase to more than $7-million.
The Bucs are working on a deal to bring Griese back, but that would be difficult if there is no extension to the collective bargaining agreement before Friday. The Bucs must trim as much as $19-million to comply with the cap.
Agent Ralph Cindrich said there is a good chance Griese could be released if there is no extension of the CBA.
"Under the current system, it would be very difficult for (the Bucs) to keep him," Cindrich said of Griese on Saturday. "They've got too much to do to get under the salary cap."
If Griese hits the market as an unrestricted free agent, he still could re-sign with the Bucs. Gruden prefers having both Simms and Griese in 2006.
"Obviously, you want to keep them both for good reason," Gruden said. "They're good players.
"Griese, in 16 starts (with the Bucs), has thrown for 67 percent and 27 touchdowns. That's not any fluke. That's reality."
Condon also represents running back Michael Pittman, who is expected to restructure the final year of his contract, which carries a salary cap value of more than $2.1-million, to remain with the team rather than exercise a $200,000 buyout to become a free agent.
Other players who could be cap casualties include defensive tackle Ellis Wyms, linebacker Jeff Gooch and offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb.
Of course, releasing veteran players to comply with the salary cap is not unique to the Bucs. Gruden said he looks forward to the day when the Bucs can be in a position to compete for more free agents.
"The (salary) cap is frustrating. Since I've been here, the cap has been a frustration," Gruden said. "Some tough decisions might have to be made. We're not a hell of a lot different from any other team."
BULL'S BIG DAY: USF running back Andre Hall's draft stock got a big boost Saturday after he wowed scouts with a 4.42-second 40-yard time.
Hall was the third fastest among running backs Saturday, behind UCLA's Maurice Drew (4.39) and LSU's Joseph Addai (4.4). The times are technically unofficial until the conclusion of the combine because they are subject to review.
Hall also did well in receiving drills. His agent, Jonathan Kline, said Hall had no drops and made an eye-opening one-handed catch. Hall needed a good workout to increase his chances of being selected on the draft's first day, when the first three rounds are held.
"I feel like the first day is out there for him," Kline said.
GIANTS: Linebacker Barrett Green and offensive lineman Jason Whittle were released, and safety Brent Alexander retired. Injuries limited Green to 11 games in two seasons. Whittle, a former Buc, played mostly special teams after starting 16 games in 2004. Alexander, 35 in July, led New York with four interceptions last season.
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.