New Head Coach Raheem Morris has declared the quarterback position as “open competition” this summer, and with three potential starters on the roster, things should be very interesting.
Luke McCown was re-signed with a two-year, $7.5m contract, which many believe to be starting money. McCown has a career quarterback rating of 75.2; however, he started three games for the Buccaneers in 2007 and finished with a rating of 91.7 and a 67.6 passing completion percentage—not to mention his excellent performance against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
McCown would appear to be the front-runner after several years on the bench. McCown’s athleticism and arm strength are superb, which makes him a natural fit for Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense – but some question marks remain over his decision-making.
The enigmatic Byron Leftwich will be in camp; he should be fresh and raring to compete after back-up duty last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Leftwich appeared in five games, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions and finishing with a rating of 104.3.
He too has been signed to a similar deal as McCown: two years, right around the $7m mark, though it is rumoured that Leftwich’s deal is more incentive-laden.
Leftwich is a well-known face throughout the NFL, a former seventh overall draft pick in 2003 with the Jacksonville Jaguars and a disappointing season with the infamous 2007Atlanta Falcons. Leftwich admits, “I give myself a mulligan for that year," but the Buccaneers know what they get with the 29-year-old signal caller.
He is strong-armed, solid in decision-making and making reads and not fazed by pressure. However, the big knocks against Leftwich are that his footwork and mobility are somewhat sluggish and his release is a drawn-out process.
With a good offensive line in front of him, Leftwich can be very successful, but asking Leftwich to scramble and buy time—not unlike former teammate Ben Roethlisberger—may be asking too much.
No one was particularly surprised when Tampa Bay selected Kansas State product Josh Freeman with the 17th pick (after trading up from 19) as Raheem Morris has long been enamoured with the young man.
At 6’6" and 248lbs, the 21-year-old Freeman has all the physical tools to be successful as an NFL quarterback. In 35 games with the Wildcats, Freeman finished with a rating of 124.73, throwing 44 touchdowns and 34 interceptions and finishing with a completion percentage of 59.1.
Freeman has the fleet of foot to buy time outside of the tackle box and hit deep completions, or simply stand tall in the pocket and make his check-downs.
The last first-round quarterback pick for the Bucs was Trent Dilfer in 1994, who later went on to win a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens.
Freeman, however, is no game-manager. The Buccaneers’ new No. 5 is being modelled by General Manager Mark Dominik as the new "face of the franchise" in a similar style to the Mannings, McNabbs, and Matt Ryans of the NFL.
Personally, I would expect Freeman to “red-shirt” his rookie year and adjust to the speed and style of pro-football, though the aforementioned Ryan and Ravens’ Joe Flacco broke the mould as rookie quarterbacks leading teams to the play-offs. Should Freeman truly impress in camp, he may well be under centre on Sept. 13 against the Dallas Cowboys.