There's been no shortage of question marks surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since the 2013 season ended. The front-office and coaching decisions have been made, but the question with the most impact remains unanswered. And it will stay that way well into training camp, possibly longer.
Will Mike Glennon be the starting quarterback when Tampa Bay starts the 2014 season, and how are the Bucs going to push Glennon or build the depth chart behind him?
Tampa Bay announced on its official website Monday that the team had signed quarterback Mike Kafka, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010 with 16 career passing attempts. Kafka joins Glennon and Dan Orlovsky as quarterbacks on the roster, but Orlovsky is scheduled to become a free agent when the league calendar resets on March 11.
Once free agency begins, the Bucs will only have two quarterbacks on their roster. Kafka, who wasn’t in the NFL in 2012 after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles and was waived by both the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to the 2013 season, isn’t the answer to compete with Glennon for the starting job.
To properly answer if Glennon should be the Week 1 quarterback in Tampa Bay, he’s going to have to be pushed and tested by another quarterback on the roster through minicamp, OTAs and training camp.
That said, it’s inevitable that the Bucs will bring in another veteran quarterback via free agency to compete with Glennon. But that might not be the only move. It wouldn’t be surprising for Tampa Bay to bring in a second quarterback after March 11, or even use a mid- to late-round draft pick on a quarterback to join the mix.
When training camp starts, there will likely be four quarterbacks on Tampa Bay’s roster, with as many as three competing for first-team reps. Besides Glennon and Kafka, whom might those quarterbacks be?
Potential Free Agents
One of the top free-agent quarterbacks on the market will be Michael Vick, and ESPN NFL analyst Adam Schefter has already linked the passer to the Bucs.
Vick is an 11-year veteran with five seasons of NFC South experience with the Atlanta Falcons (he played six seasons in Atlanta, but his first was when the Falcons were in the NFC West). With 128 games worth of experience, there’s plenty of film available on Vick for the Tampa Bay staff to look at prior to speaking with the free agent.
The problem with Vick is that he’s wildly inconsistent, both because of injuries and his style of play on the field. Tampa Bay’s quarterback prior to Glennon, Josh Freeman, was run out of town partially because of his inconsistencies, and you could argue that Freeman was a better quarterback from 2010 to 2012.
Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com, citing a source “in the know,” sent out a tweet on Feb. 5 that stated quarterback Matt Cassel intended to void the final two seasons of his contract.
Apparently, Wolfson has good sources, because Cassel did indeed opt out of his contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
Cassel is three years removed from his last 3,000-yard passing season, and he’s being pursued by the Vikings to negotiate a new contract, according to Brian Hall of Fox Sports. But he did finish the 2013 season as Minnesota’s starter and played well enough to be in the conversation to start again in 2014.
If Cassel could regain magic from his 2008 season in New England or his first two seasons in Kansas City, he’d be a good free-agent signing for the Bucs.
Josh McCown did a good job filling in for Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler while Cutler was injured last season; good enough for talks to heat up about a quarterback controversy. But the Bears squashed that conversation by signing Cutler to huge contract extension.
McCown was only 3-2 as Chicago’s starter, but he threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns with only one interception. With that kind of touchdown-to-interception ratio, it would seem plausible that Tampa Bay would want to talk with McCown, especially since there’s history between new Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith and McCown, according to ESPN.com writer Vaughn McClure.
Potential Draft Picks
In addition to bringing in a free agent to compete with Glennon, Tampa Bay might draft a quarterback. This could work for a number of reasons.
If the quarterback were taken early enough in the draft, he could compete with Glennon and the free-agent-to-be. Or, if the free agent wins the starting job, he could mentor both Glennon and the draft pick for a few years, as NFL.com media reporter Judy Battista was told by an unnamed personnel executive.
There are too many teams that are in need of an upgrade for him not to be looked at as a starter. I could see a team signing him, and developing a young guy. Vick could be a very good bridge starter for two to three years.
Depending on where in the draft the Bucs wanted to select a quarterback, a strategy could unfold as to how the team wants to proceed under center. There are other pressing needs in the first round for Tampa Bay to consider a quarterback. But in the second round, the Bucs could find a ready-to-compete passer.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
It’s unlikely that any of the top four quarterbacks will fall to the second round, but Jimmy Garoppolo could last until the Bucs pick with the eighth selection on Friday.
Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards at Eastern Illinois last season and posted 53 touchdown passes and only nine picks. He shone at the East-West Shrine Game and was a late invite to the Senior Bowl.
Known as a student of the game with a great work ethic, Garoppolo has a strong arm and good mechanics and only has the level-of-competition argument to overcome, as he’s shown everything else on the field.
The SEC, Mid-Round Trio
If the Buccaneers wait until Saturday to draft a quarterback, it’s likely they’ll be able to choose from three huge names from the Southeastern Conference: AJ McCarron from Alabama, Zach Mettenberger from LSU or Aaron Murray from Georgia.
McCarron piloted Alabama to two national championships and received a third ring when he was redshirted during his freshman year in 2009. He also won 36 games as a starter and only lost four if you count bowl appearances. He threw 77 touchdown passes during his college career and only 15 interceptions.
Mettenberger might be the best pure passer of the trio and sure showed a drastic improvement in 2013 with a marked improvement in completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns.
Murray left Georgia as the SEC’s all-time leading passer with 13,166 passing yards. He started four seasons at UGA and threw 121 touchdown passes and 41 interceptions.
If the Bucs want McCarron, it might take a third-round pick, which the team does not have because of last year's Darrelle Revis trade with the New York Jets. To grab Mettenberger or Murray, waiting until the fourth round might be the way to go.
The combination of another veteran quarterback with a rookie in the draft is quite intriguing. While Glennon and Kafka isn’t the strongest base to begin with, adding a guy like McCown or Vick and then drafting McCarron or Murray would give this new coaching staff a number of viable options.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.