Are Bucs paying price for not planning ahead?

Josh Johnson AP/Michael Conroy

Coach Jon Gruden may prefer veteran QBs, but Tampa could use a young arm and new talent at that spot. Will Josh Johnson take the lead in the franchise? Or will the Bucs need to dip into free agency to fill the void? Plus link to BucsBlitz.com premium content through this article.

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The Bucs need a young quarterback they can build the franchise around. But Jon Gruden has really never developed one and the team hasn't invested a first-round pick in a quarterback since Trent Dilfer in 1994.

Since 2002, the Bucs have never used a pick higher than a third-rounder on a quarterback, and that was Chris Simms in 2003 -- an unpopular choice made by then general manager Rich McKay.

Under Gruden, the Bucs have acquired three veteran quarterbacks via trades using sixth round picks -- Luke McCown, Tim Rattay -- and the rights to two others (Brian Griese and Jake Plummer) with seventh rounders. They also used a sixth-rounder on Bruce Gradkowski and a fifth-rounder on Josh Johnson.

Gruden and hand-picked general manager Bruce Allen took control of the draft in 2004 and have acquired 51 players utilizing those picks. If developing a young passer was a priority, you bet it would've been accomplished by now.

"It'd be nice. It'd be nice to do. I think the highest draft selection we made was Chris (Simms) in the '03 season, I believe," Gruden said. "We did our best to develop him. We got a lot out of Chris, he did some good things here. He had an injury.

"We had Brad Johnson win a world championship here. We've had some issues at other positions that we've needed to address, to be honest with you. So it's been a little bit harder than it appears. It's hard to find a guy unless you take him early sometimes. A lot of the young guys that maybe you're talking about having on your football team don't make it to free agency. It's hard to acquire some of these guys. Yeah, I'm all for trying to find a young guy, a blue chip stallion and we'll continue to do that. But I'm not alone."

The fact is Gruden doesn't buy green bananas. He prefers 30-something year old quarterbacks because that's what his system is best-suited for. But in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, a young QB to build the franchise around is what the Bucs need. Gruden is very defensive on the topic.

"I started Bruce Gradkowski for 11 games," he said. "I started Chris Simms for 19 games. I don't know about that. And I came here and Brad (Johnson) was here and I made the best of that situation. I tried to develop Shaun King. So did some other teams in the league. It didn't work out. I did my best. We got a lot out of Chris Simms. I feel like he played pretty good football here. But the perception and the reality, those are two different things."

So how will the Bucs be better in 2009? Through free agency and the draft?

Let's take a look at free agency under the Gruden/Allen administration.

According to the media guide, the Bucs have signed 33 unrestricted or restricted free agents since 2004. Of those, 17 were not on the opening day roster in 2008, meaning they had either since been released or placed on injured reserve. Of the 33 free agents, only one player -- Jeff Garcia -- has been named to the Pro Bowl.

Fifty-one players have been acquired through the draft or via trades since '04. Of those, eight players started consistently for the Bucs last season. Fifteen other players were primarily backups. Twenty-eight are no longer with the team, about 55 percent.

If you're wondering why there's no depth on the defensive line, start there. Defensive tackle Dre Moore, a player the Bucs traded up for in the fourth round last April, didn't make the team. Greg Peterson, a fifth-rounder in '07, rarely has played. In fact, no player from the 2006 draft selected after the third round is with the club.

Finding a young quarterback in free agency will be tough. The Patriots plan to franchise Matt Cassel. It's pretty unlikely the Eagles are going to split ties with Donovan McNabb. The Browns may trade Derek Anderson for a king's ransom. Unless you want reclamation projects like the 49ers Alex Smith or the Bears' Rex Grossman, you're out of luck.

Only Griese and Johnson are under contract. So that leaves the Bucs looking at their own free agents -- Garcia and McCown. Garcia will be 39 and McCown will test the market after being bypassed for Griese at Atlanta last month. Gruden says he'd like to re-sign Garcia, who will be 39. It's hard to believe him until you realize the options aren't very good.

"He's not as young as he used to be, but he's still one hell of a competitor and a fine quarterback," Gruden said.

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