Though he never found his way in San Diego, Leaf was seen as a strong leader in college at Washington State
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were awarded former San Diego QB Ryan Leaf off waivers late Friday afternoon. With the weekend interrupting, Bucs General Manager Rich McKay didn't have the opportunity to address the local media on the subject until Monday morning.
In between, fans and pundits were left to speculate on why the Buccaneers made this surprising move.
In the end, perhaps the more pertinent question should have been, 'Why not?'
When contemplating the idea of claiming Leaf after he was waived by the Chargers on February 28, it was a simple matter of weighing the upside against the downside for McKay and Head Coach Tony Dungy. The decision was made easy when there was very little to mark in the second column.
Upside: At virtually no cost, the Buccaneers get a chance to know and evaluate Leaf, whose three-year career in San Diego produced little satisfaction for either team or player.
Downside: a little awkward publicity, perhaps.
"In the end, where we struggled was, what was the downside?" said McKay on Monday. "We really thought the only downside was that you might get a little bad P.R. and people might say, 'What are the Bucs doing?' Other than that, there was no downside. We did like the player a lot coming out (of college) and we said, 'Let's give him an opportunity to see where he is.'"
Leaf and the Bucs will begin the process of getting to know each other in the next few days (his exact arrival date is not yet set). The newest Buc spoke with Dungy on Monday morning by telephone and, according to McKay, sounded positive about the development. It appears that the former Washington State All-American is relishing the opportunity to get a fresh start after a tumultuous stay in San Diego.
"We need to see where he is mentally," said McKay. "Does he understand the road he has in front of him? Where would he be in the off-season? How much participation will he have in the off-season program? Those are all issues that need to be talked about and we will talk about them."
The Bucs, who have been to the playoffs in three of the last four years and were within a few minutes of the Super Bowl 13 months ago, are looking for the pieces that will help them take that final step. However, it may be the experiences of the pre-Renaissance Bucs that made the club willing to take this chance on Leaf.
"We've lived those problems," said McKay, referring to the pitfalls Leaf fell into with the Chargers after being taken with the second overall draft pick in 1998. "We've seen guys in that exact situation that Ryan was in – being a high number-one pick, (getting) a huge signing bonus, having the expectation that this would be the one player to turn a franchise around – then not meeting those expectations. We have seen those players and know those problems.
"The issue then becomes, is the player able to adjust to a new status in the second home, the third home, wherever it may be. That remains to be seen, but we've talked to some people. I remember very well going in and scouting what (Washington State Head) Coach (Mike) Price had said about him and how much he was respected in the WSU locker room. He took a team to a Rose Bowl that hadn't been there for a long time. There is obviously some positive out there. We just have to sift through the information to see where the kid's head is, to see where he is as a player and as somebody who has gone through the experiences he's gone through."
It would be a somewhat poetic reversal of fortune if Leaf rebounded from his uninspiring NFL start in San Diego to contribute well in Tampa Bay. Most of the Buccaneer experience in that matter has been on the other end, as several high-profile quarterbacks have moved on from disappointment in Tampa to success elsewhere. For one reason or another, that list includes Doug Williams, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde and even Trent Dilfer, newly-crowned Super Bowl champ.
"Yeah, there are guys who tend to do better in their second home than their first," said McKay. "You always want to explore that. This franchise has seemed to have a history of some of those guys (who left). That number eight, Steve something, left here and did okay."
McKay laughed a bit at that last bit. He didn't mind that some observers were doing the same after the Bucs' claiming of Leaf. Once you get past the knee-jerk reaction caused by Leaf's high-profile issues in San Diego, there really seems to be little reason not to take this gamble.
"We're looking at this as a more developmental type move," said McKay. "Let's see where you are as a football player and let's try to get better and use your talents. Tony and his staff have been excellent with young guys throughout the years, letting those guys grow at their own pace. We view that as a positive and we have to see how Ryan views it."
Hopefully, he'll see the upside.