QB Luke McCown was searching for an opportunity to compete for a starting job, and he believes he found it in Tampa
Luke McCown re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday, nine days into February and a little less than three weeks before he could have become an unrestricted free agent.
A month earlier, in the first week of January, that might have been the last thing McCown expected to do.
McCown, who was drafted by Cleveland in 2004 and traded to Tampa Bay in 2005 – and who was still playing under his original NFL contract last year – saw his first crack at free agency as a chance to find the one thing he felt his professional career needed.
Not money. Not any guarantee of playing time. Just an opportunity, and somebody who believed he was worth that opportunity.
When the Buccaneers dismissed Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen on January 17, and the next day promoted Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik to those positions, respectively, McCown wondered if that opportunity might prove to be closer to home than he expected. He reached out to the team and its new management.
"I was looking for somebody – be it Mark or Raheem, and it turns out that it's both – just to show that confidence in me; that they were willing to give me a chance; that they see the potential I have to be a starter and not just to be a guy that holds the position for a little while but to be a guy that can lead the team for a couple of years," said the sixth-year passer. "That's what I was looking for, just somebody to support me, to back me on that and to show me their support. Once I felt I had that, it was a no-brainer for me to get serious about working to get a deal done here."
McCown started three games for the Buccaneers in the second half of the 2007 season and performed well, most notably in an early-December win at New Orleans that effectively locked up the division title. He was one of two possible options last December in Atlanta when starter Jeff Garcia was unable to play in a crucial game due to a leg injury. Gruden and the Buccaneers opted to start veteran Brian Griese instead, a decision that McCown did not understand but one he refuses to second-guess. McCown is not bitter about the 2008 situation and he says he harbors no hard feelings towards Gruden or Allen.
"Coach Gruden was making the calls that he felt was necessary for the team last year, and I understand that," said McCown in his usual thoughtful and measured words. "Certainly, I would have loved an opportunity to help this team win some games last year but that wasn't the case. So I was going to be open to looking for other opportunities [in 2009].
"Whether they wanted me back or not, I don't know, but at the time when Jon and Bruce were still here, if they wanted me back I'm not sure how that would have worked out. I was going to go see what else was out there, see what other opportunities were there But like I said, once everything went down and Mark and Raheem said they wanted to start talking again, that really piqued my interest.
McCown has a career 91.0 passer rating as a Buccaneer, albeit in a limited sample of about 140 tosses. He's shown that he has a very strong arm – perhaps important if new coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's attack has more of a downfield element to it – and nimble feet, with an ability to create on the run. He's a team-first guy, absolutely unwilling to cause a disruption no matter where he is on the depth chart. And he has the sort of unwavering confidence one needs to succeed on the NFL level.
"There's no question in my mind: I'm ready to compete," said McCown. "I didn't bother to ask who, if anybody else, were they targeting to bring in to compete or who I was going to be competing with. That doesn't matter to me. I feel like I'm going to do everything I can to win the job, to be the leader of this franchise and to take us back to the playoffs. I feel I have the ability to do that; I think my teammates know that; I think everyone knows that I just need a chance. I'm not going to sit here and say there won't be ups and downs with any young player in terms of experience; there's going to be. But I vow to work harder than anybody and push my team harder than anybody to get better."
McCown knows nothing is promised to him. Griese, for instance, is still with the team as well and has also had a track record of success as a Buccaneer. Second-year man Josh Johnson could emerge. Garcia is a free agent but could return, or the team could add another passer through free agency or the draft. All of those factors, McCown can accept, as long as he knows he'll be given a chance, too.
"My family, my wife and I, we love the city here; we love the fans; we love this organization," he said. "Our two kids have been born here, our third is going to be born here, so we love this area. We weren't in any hurry to try to find another team to play for; we just wanted an opportunity to compete."