Shaun King will be the Bucs' starter at quarterback in 2001, but don't rule out the Bucs importing some added competition
Rich McKay, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' general manager, will tell you that the Bucs head into any offseason with a well-developed plan to deal with free agency and the draft.
However, he'll also admit that last year's offseason, which turned out exceedingly well, hardly went according to plan. Tampa Bay went into the spring hoping to find upgrades at center, guard and wide receiver, and eventually walked off with three Pro Bowlers for those positions in Jeff Christy, Randall McDaniel and Keyshawn Johnson. Only Christy was plainly going to be available when February began.
The Bucs may have a plan for every position on the team, but that plan has enough flexibility to allow the team to take advantage of extraordinary opportunities, such as the one that arose when the Jets decided they had to trade Johnson. The point here being, if you're looking for the answer to how the Bucs will shape their quarterback corps in 2001, you may have to wait for the situation to develop.
"We have a plan as to how we want to manage the position," said McKay. "Obviously, the plan includes Shaun King. Otherwise, we'll let it play out. We may talk to some guys. I can't say we won't. But I always get fearful of that position because it gets so much play in the media's eyes and in the fans' eyes, because it's a focal position. But it's one where we do have a plan and Shaun King is the central part of that plan. We'll go from there."
What makes the situation a little difficult to gauge is the wide variety of available options. There are proven starters with gaudy statistics on the market in players such as Brad Johnson and Elvis Grbac. There are other experienced options that might come at a slightly lower price, such as Doug Flutie or Trent Dilfer. There are enigmas and projects such as Ryan Leaf, Jamie Martin and Tony Banks. There's also the draft in April.
McKay wasn't prepared to rule out any category of quarterback, even while reiterating King's status as the starter. One wouldn't expect the Bucs, with their commitment to King, to be in the market for a $5-million hurler, but McKay avoids putting a particular dollar value on any position.
"Everybody has a plan as to how to manage the cap," said McKay. "My approach is pretty simplistic, that any contract you sign must fit in a three-year plan … as to how you're going to manage your cap, today, tomorrow, next year and the year after. But you don't put parameters and say I'm not going to spend 'X' at any position.
"If we'd had this meeting last year and you had said, 'What's the most you would spend on a receiver?' I can assure you the number would have been a lot less than Keyshawn Johnson's number. A lot less … maybe a third of the entire contract. You didn't go in there with that mindset (of spending a lot on a receiver), but you react to what your opportunities are. Then, when you decide on contract structures, whether it's for a linebacker, a wide receiver or a quarterback, you have to go back and say how does this fit our football team? How does this fit into our plans? Don't get too caught up in 2001. Don't get too caught up in that first game.
"That's from our perspective. Clearly, other teams are approaching it in a much different manner. But that's the way that we approach it, so I can't sit here and say that there are any parameters on any position. We didn't enter last year thinking we were going to spend as much as we would spend on a center, but Jeff was the guy we targeted and that's what the market drove it to."
McKay knows that this position, even if it is not the one of greatest need for the team, will be the one to garner the most attention during the free agency period. That is hastened by the plethora of waivers around the league. The teams that used to wait for the June 1 salary cap deadline to find a few extra quarterbacks becoming available now see the market saturated right from the beginning. That has certainly added to the uncertainty for the Buccaneers.
"The one thing we know is that Shaun is the starter," said McKay. "He was the starter last year and he is certainly set to be the starter again in 2001. You always want competition at the position. That is a given. In this instance, I don't remember the (free agency) list being this long ever before. I don't know if that means it's a great list, but it's certainly a long list. That's a little different. So we'll take our time and we'll evaluate. I realize that will lead to a lot of speculation, but that's the way it is."