QB Brian Griese compiled the best passer rating in Buccaneer history in 2004
On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced that they have reached agreement with quarterback Brian Griese on a new long-term contract, taking care of one of the most important pieces of their 2005 business even before the '05 league season began.
Of course, that was the point. Griese was actually still under contract, having signed a multi-year deal with the Buccaneers prior to the 2004 season, in which he eventually won the starting job and had one of the best seasons ever by a Tampa Bay passer. However, the specifics of Griese's original deal for the 2005 season were unworkable for a team that must trim approximately $17 million from its player salaries before the league season begins on Wednesday.
News of the deal leaked on Sunday morning, but Griese's contract work wasn't finalized until late in the afternoon. As is team policy, the Buccaneers declined to announce the length or terms of the new agreement. However, the Bucs were happy to share their excitement over the good news.
"We are very excited that we will be able to continue to work with Brian," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "This is one of the most accurate passers in NFL history. When you have a guy completing 70, 72% of his passes, making clutch throws in key situations and consistently making good decisions, you want to keep that guy around. He's very smart, he adapted to our offense extremely fast and he's still in his prime. We wanted Brian Griese here."
The 29-year-old Griese, who spent five seasons in Denver and one in Miami before joining Tampa Bay last year, rejuvenated his career in 2004 and turned himself into a viable commodity on the free agent market had the Bucs been forced to release him. Thus, his signing on Sunday is an encouraging opening-round success for what should prove to be a very active 2005 offseason for the Buccaneers.
Griese, a Pro Bowler with the Broncos in 2000, began last season as Tampa Bay's inactive third quarterback, with Brad Johnson starting and promising second-year man Chris Simms backing up. However, Griese moved up a spot on the depth chart when Simms was promoted to the starting role for the fifth game of the season, at New Orleans on Oct. 10. At the time, Head Coach Jon Gruden explained his decision to put Griese second and Johnson third for that game, saying he didn't want to be tempted by Johnson's presence to have a short leash in Simms' first NFL start.
That decision proved to be a good one for the Buccaneers, but for a different reason. Simms looked sharp in his starting debut but was lost to a significant shoulder injury at the end of the first quarter. Griese came in without missing a beat, completed a remarkable 16 of 19 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown, and led the team to its first victory of the season.
That game proved to be no fluke, as Griese maintained a hot hand throughout the season. One of the most accurate passers in league annals, he completed at least 60% of his passes in every start but one, when he hit on only 59.1% in the rematch against New Orleans. He also threw at least one touchdown pass in each of his starts and never tossed more interceptions than touchdowns in a single contest.
Simms' injury was serious enough to keep him out of action for over a month, and Griese quickly put a stranglehold on the starting job. The former Michigan star eventually opened 10 games, missing the season finale with an injury of his own, a foot sprain that greatly reduced his mobility.
Overall, Griese completed 233 of 336 passes for (69.3%) for 2,632 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His passer rating of 97.5 was not only the third-highest in the NFC, it was easily a new Buccaneer record, shattering Johnson's 2002 mark of 92.9. Griese also set new team records for completion percentage and yards per pass attempt (7.83) while tying Johnson's standard for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (11).
Though Griese's career had seemingly taken a downward turn in Miami in 2003, that was probably an overstatement based on a small amount of evidence, and he certainly proved he could be a top NFL quarterback again with his 2004 performance. Though he compiled a passer rating of 69.2 in just five starts with the Dolphins, his career rating remains 85.3 and has never been lower than 75.6 in any of his other seasons (excluding the 1998 rookie campaign in which he threw only three passes).
In 2000, his second season as a starter with the Broncos, Griese led the NFL with a 102.9 rating, completing 64.3% of his passes and throwing 19 touchdowns against just four interceptions. In his final season in Denver, he put up an 85.6 rating while completing 66.7% of his passes and throwing for a career-high 3,214 yards.
Griese's career completion percentage of 61.8% is the seventh-highest in NFL history (minimum: 1,500 attempts), placing him just behind Kurt Warner, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Daunte Culpepper, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He jumped six spots on the league's all-time career passer rating chart in 2004, ending up in 12th place, right behind Dan Marino.