This week's electronic conversation between sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano includes takes on Chris Simms' future, the weak NFC and Jon Gruden's future.
JR: So, Gary, the Bucs and Chris Simms are talking about a new contract. Are you shocked? Are you pleased? Are you ready to rush out and get a splenectomy of your own?
GS: What's the old saying? Absence makes the spleen grow fonder? The longer Simms has been away, the better he has looked. After watching Bruce Gradkowski struggle, you even expect Jon Gruden to gaze longingly at Simms and say, "I miss you, you blankety-blank-of-a-blank.''
JR: Not only does the heart grow fonder, but the head gets clearer. And Gruden has to realize he cannot afford a losing season in 2007. So does he put his faith in Gradkowski, does he gamble an attractive free-agent quarterback is going to be available, or does he choose to remember the Chris Simms of 2005?
GS: The answer is "yes.'' He keeps his faith in Gradkowski because he realizes he has asked too much of him. He remembers how much he loved Simms. And he remembers that his mistake last year was not bringing in a veteran quarterback, so he goes after Jake Plummer or Byron Leftwich. Also, he will talk a lot about Luke McCown.
JR: And he checks with the alumni association to see if anyone knows what Joe Kapp and Roman Gabriel are up to.
GS: See, that's a typical snarky comment from you guys in the media. Gruden is not interested in Joe Kapp. Not when he can get a mobile quarterback like Fran Tarkenton.
JR: Okay, now that we have established a need to go quarterback shopping in the after-Christmas sales, what do the Bucs do about today's game? Do you suppose the Bucs are worried about abdicating their throne to the Steelers as the ugliest post-Super Bowl flops in history?
GS: You know better. The Steelers are mere beginners in tripping over their trophy. Tell the Steelers to call me back when they've thrown away a few more players, ruptured a few more spleens and signed a few more Steussies.
JR: The two worst cases of Super Bowl hangover (not counting strike seasons) have come in the last decade. The Steelers are now threatening to join the list. That would seem to indicate the salary cap era is a major factor, but it's a lot more fun to just blame coaches and GMs.
GS: I blame the media. Especially your part in it.
JR: It would help if the Bucs could blame the injuries, except they were 0-3 before the ambulances arrived. It'd help if they could blame the schedule, except they were 2-6 before doing their Lewis-and-Clark-in-11-days gig. So why not blame the media now. I haven't made a tackle all year.
GS: You're Jermaine Phillips? As Jim Mora Sr. would say before his kid disowned him, you're a coach-killer. A couch-killer, too.
JR: Speaking of Mora, the Falcons are fading again. The Panthers are up-and-down. The entire NFC looks like the tiny tots division. As of this moment, a 6-5 record would get you a wild-card bid. Not the best timing for the Bucs to slide past mediocre and settle in at awful.
GS: Not only that, but a wild card could win the NFC. Somebody has to. Meanwhile, let's all feel bad for Pittsburgh, because they've had injuries and they've had bad breaks and there are rumors the coach might not be back. Can you imagine?
JR: A coach losing his job after one losing season? That's not the Glazers' style. They only pull the trigger after a 9-7 season. So Gruden appears safe.
GS: He does? Wait. Sorry, I thought you said "sane.''