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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup QB plan now a priority

TAMPA - Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik hasn't spent much time scouting quarterbacks the past few years. That will change this year. The Bucs have decided that, after four years, QB Josh Freeman likely would benefit from a little more competition than career backup Dan Orlovsky provides. They've determined that Freeman needs a bit of a push. But don't be fooled by the rhetoric. The Bucs aren't going to spend this offseason looking for someone who has the ability just to push Freeman. They're likely going to spend this offseason looking for someone with the potential to replace him.
No, the Bucs have not given up on Freeman. Not a by a long shot. They still believe he has the makeup necessary to be a franchise quarterback, to lead them not only to the playoffs but the Super Bowl. But what if they're wrong? What if Freeman never reaches the point where he can eliminate the two or three bad games that helped derail the Bucs' playoff drive this year? What if he never gets any better than he is right now? That's what this offseason's search for a quarterback to compete with Freeman is all about. It's about getting ahead of the curve. It's about preparing for the possibility of a future without Freeman. Fast forward to late 2013 or 2014. Imagine a Bucs team with Freeman playing at the same level as this year, which is good enough to dream about making the playoffs but not quite good enough to get there. The Bucs have imagined that scenario. Freeman has left them no other choice. He forced the issue when he suddenly went off the rails down the stretch and cost them two critical games. Now, imagine all you have behind Freeman is Orlovsky – at age 31 with only that handful of starts under his belt and little promise he will be anything more than a career backup. The Bucs have. That's why they'll spend a good part of this offseason looking for a quarterback, one whom, if he doesn't have it already, may one day possess the ability to replace Freeman and keep the Bucs on the playoff path. It's similar to what the 49ers did a couple years ago when they drafted Colin Kaepernick in the second round. Sure, they had Alex Smith at the time. They also had some doubts about Smith. Kaepernick became their insurance policy. That's what the Bucs are looking for – an insurance policy. And don't discount the possibility Tampa Bay will find it in free agency. They want a potential replacement, and if the research indicates someone such as Tavaris Jackson, Brady Quinn or Matt Moore could one day be that replacement, they might bite. Still, the greater likelihood is the Bucs will do as the Eagles did in April, when they invested a third-round draft pick in Nick Foles, and purchase their insurance policy with a mid-round draft selection. It's a good year to do that. The 2013 quarterback class is adequate, not great, but sets up rather nicely for a team such as the Bucs because it offers plenty of possibilities in the middle and late rounds. As the draft is being projected now, there is a chance experienced prospects from big-time programs such as Landry Jones of Oklahoma and E.J. Manuel of Florida State could be available. Enticing prospects such as Zac Dysert (Miami of Ohio) or Colin Klein (Kansas State) should be there for the taking in the middle rounds, as well. And if juniors Tyler Bray (Tennessee), Aaron Murray (Plant High and Georgia) and Keith Price (Washington) opt in, the Bucs could have a shot at one of them as well. All in all, it's not a bad year for the Bucs to get back into the quarterback market, particularly when you consider exactly what it is they're looking for.

rcummings@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7979 Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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