Tampa Bay's excellent salary cap preparation allowed the team to make the relatively risk-free move of claiming Ryan Leaf off waivers
Ryan Leaf is trading in the West Coast for Florida's West Coast. After starring at Washington State and spending three star-crossed seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Leaf is moving across the country to Tampa. How long he stays has yet to be determined.
On Friday, Leaf became a Tampa Bay Buccaneer when he was awarded to the team off waivers. After Leaf was placed on waivers by the Chargers on Wednesday, the Buccaneers were the only team to submit a claim in the ascribed two-day period the NFL uses at this time of the year. Late in the afternoon, the Bucs learned that Leaf was headed their way.
Due to the structure of his original contract with the Chargers, Leaf arrives in Tampa at very little cost to the Buccaneers. His base compensation for the 2001 season under this contract would be minimal; in addition, the Buccaneers would owe Leaf nothing if he were released before the season.
"It is a very unique opportunity when a player of Ryan Leaf's ability is put on the wire, allowing a team to claim him," said Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay. "We liked Ryan a lot coming out of college, and have a pretty good understanding of some of the problems he has experienced over the last couple of years. For us, this could be a short-term free look, but his abilities warrant that we perform due diligence."
In 1998, Leaf was the second overall pick in the NFL Draft, heading to the Chargers after San Diego engineered a costly trade with Arizona to move up one spot. In three seasons in San Diego, the 6-5, 235-pound Leaf played in 21 games and started 18, completing 272 of 567 passes for 3,172 yards, 13 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. In 2000, he started nine games and set career highs in completions (161), yards (1,883) and touchdowns (11).
Leaf missed the entire 1999 season due to an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder. As a rookie in 1998, he played in 10 games, started nine and completed 111 of 245 passes for 1,289 yards, two touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Ironically, though the move is virtually costless for the Buccaneers, it was the team's excellent salary cap situation that allowed it to be possible. A unique buy-back provision in Leaf's contract makes his hypothetical salary-cap implication quite a bit higher than what his actual current salary is. As evidenced by the wide-spread cuts throughout the NFL over the days leading up to the beginning of free agency on Friday, many of the league's teams are uncomfortably close to the salary cap.
It is not yet known when Leaf will arrive in Tampa.
Leaf was drafted immediately after the University of Tennessee's Peyton Manning went to Indianapolis with the first overall pick in '98. At Washington State, the rocket-armed Leaf started for two years and threw a school-record 58 touchdown passes. After leading the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years as a junior in 1997, Leaf was named to The Sporting News All-America First Team.
The Buccaneers now have five quarterbacks currently under contract. Third-year player Shaun King returns as the team's starter and is backed up by Eric Zeier and Joe Hamilton. Ted White, who spent most of 2000 on the Bucs' practice squad, also re-signed with the team after the season.