Shaun King was handed the ball last year to continue the Bucs' transition through highly-drafted quarterbacks
It would be virtually impossible for the 2000 NFL draft to match last year's selection weekend in terms of quarterback intrigue. In what was billed 'the year of the quarterback', signal-callers held down the first three positions in the draft and five of the top 12, providing visions of future glory to at least five metropolitan areas. Nothing stirs NFL fans' collective passion like a high-first-round quarterback, but this year's draft is a little lighter on 'franchise saviors', according to the ubiquitous draft pundits.
Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were slotted too low to get into the early run on quarterbacks, they did add to the drama by selecting Tulane's Shaun King with the 19th pick of the second round. When King took over the Bucs' starting reins for the final two months of the 1999 season, effectively playing as much or more than four of those five first-rounders, he forever thrust himself into the story of the '99 QB class.
He also added an early personal chapter to the Buccaneers long history of quarterback selections. Whether that history will grow in next weekend's 64th annual draft is known only to the Buccaneers' player personnel department, and Buccaneers.com doesn't want to pry. What can be accomplished is a look at the team's previous work in that area, an analysis of the Bucs' current quarterback situation and a survey of this year's field.
First, some numbers that we have applied to each position (contract situations as of 4/5):
Starting spots/Returning starters currently under contract: 1/1
Total players under contract: 2
Unrestricted/Restricted free agents: 0/1
Relevant 1999 NFL rankings: Tampa Bay ranked 30th in passing yards per game, 26th in yards per pass play and 28th in total offense
1999 Pro Bowlers/AP All Pros: 0/0
First-round draft picks spent on the position in team history: 3*
Overall draft picks spent on the position in the last five years: 1
- Tampa Bay also spent the first overall pick in 1984's USFL entry draft on QB Steve Young.
Of course, that one draft pick since 1995 was the aforementioned King, who has quickly moved into the starting job, or at least the pole position for that role heading into 2000. That would make for a clean transition from Trent Dilfer, the sixth overall pick in 1994 and the last quarterback taken before King. After briefly surrendering the starting spot to Eric Zeier during 1999, his fifth season at the helm, Dilfer regained the job after a Zeier injury and played well in November. However, he suffered a broken collarbone at Seattle on November 28, was replaced for the remainder of the regular season and the Bucs' deep run into the playoffs by King, then became a free agent at season's end when Tampa Bay declined to exercise a two-year contract option. Dilfer recently signed with Baltimore.
Dilfer, in effect, had taken over for the team's previous first-round quarterback, Vinny Testaverde. Testaverde was the first pick in the '87 draft and was the team's primary starter from the end of that campaign through 1992. After his free agency departure in '92, the Bucs employed Craig Erickson and Steve DeBerg for two seasons before Dilfer took over in his second season in 1995. Testaverde followed a two-year span (1985-86) in which Young started 19 games, which in turn was just a few years removed from Doug Williams' Buccaneer era. Williams was taken with the first pick overall in 1978 and was the team's primary starter through 1982. Two other quarterbacks who have taken cracks at the Bucs' starting job, Jack Thompson and Chris Chandler, were acquired by trade at the price of a first-round pick. Clearly, the Buccaneers have preferred to find their field generals in the early stages of the draft.
King, a St. Petersburg native and lifelong Buccaneer fan, hopes to make his turn in this series a long one. Currently, he is joined on the roster only by sixth-year man Eric Zeier, but Scott Milanovich should make that a threesome by April 10. Milanovich, who is currently playing for the Berlin Thunder in the NFL Europe League, is a restricted free agent to whom the Buccaneers have extended a tender offer. Therefore, if he has not signed with Bucs or another team by the April 10 cutoff date, he will be able to negotiate only with Tampa Bay.
Generally, however, Tampa Bay enters training camp with at least four quarterbacks, which would apparently leave the door open for the addition of one more hurler. The Bucs' very busy offseason has included several visits from free agent quarterbacks, but no there have been no additional signings at quarterback and one is not anticipated before the draft on April 15 and 16. Last year, the Buccaneers went into the draft with only Dilfer under contract at that position, then quickly solidified the position by drafting King, trading a fifth-round pick to Baltimore for Zeier and signing college free agent Patrick Bonner after the draft.
Though the Buccaneers have commonly brought on a college free-agent QB to enter training camp (Milanovich, in fact, fell into that category in 1996), the team has admitted that it is considering adding more of a veteran flavor to its backups in 2000. Still, the use of later-round picks on quarterbacks is evident in fairly recent team history, such as Mike Pawlawski in the eighth round in 1992, Pat O'Hara in the 10th in '91, Todd Hammel in the 12th in '90 and Mike Shula in the 12th in '87.
Most mock NFL drafts currently in circulation expect nothing even remotely similar to last year's run on quarterbacks. In fact, only Marshall's Chad Pennington and Louisville's Chris Redman are commonly mentioned as possible first-rounders. However, the usual lists of quarterbacks who may expect to have their names called on the 15th and 16th include such well-known names as Florida's Doug Johnson, Tennessee's Tee Martin, Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton, Michigan's Tom Brady and Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay. Others appearing on draft boards near you might include Hofstra's Giovanni Carmazzi, Stanford's Todd Husak, West Virginia's Marc Bulger and Southwest Texas State's Spergon Wynn.
With only three or four quarterbacks making each team's roster in the fall, there is obviously a much smaller pool of draftees being considered. Still, the scrutiny on the position is proportionally much larger, as teams decide in whose hands their near futures are going to reside. With their long history of high picks spent on their field generals, the Buccaneers have as much practice at this as any team in the league. Whether they will put that practice into practice just over a week from now remains a question mark.