Tampa Bay QB duel

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- As he walked off the practice field Wednesday, Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris joked he might wait until the Sept. 13 opener against Dallas to reveal his starting quarterback.

At least we think Morris was joking.

The rookie coach has gone deep into the preseason without a decision. He's already extended his deadline once, so anything seems possible -- even a trade that could narrow the pool.

Morris has four quarterbacks -- Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson -- on the roster. At the moment, it appears as if the decision will come down to Leftwich and McCown. If they truly are in a dead heat, as it seems, it all could be decided in Thursday night's preseason game with Miami.

Morris isn't likely to delay the decision much longer than that. He must get his team ready for the regular season and it will help to have a quarterback definitively working with the first team in the final weeks of practice.

Morris isn't the only coach facing a big decision at quarterback. Today, the Blog Network examines the three jobs that haven't been decided. NFC North colleague Kevin Seifert weighs in on the situation in Detroit and AFC North blogger James Walker takes a look at Cleveland's quarterback quandary.

Here's the overview on Tampa Bay's situation.


The case for Josh Freeman: This probably isn't going to happen because the Bucs are intent on bringing their rookie along slowly, but why not start Freeman now? The Bucs have repeatedly called Freeman their franchise quarterback and this franchise is starting anew with Morris.

Freeman has way more upside than either of the two veterans and has looked brilliant on the practice field at times. He also has made some rookie mistakes. But this is a team that's going to rely mostly on the running game. At 20 passes (or so) a game, Freeman might make a mistake or two, but he also has the potential to give the Bucs some big plays.


The case for Byron Leftwich: He's the most experienced of the bunch and seems to be the one Morris is leaning toward as the Bucs head into Thursday night's preseason game with Miami. Put simply, the Bucs view Leftwich as the safe choice. That's a little perplexing given his 48 percent completion rate in the preseason.

But Leftwich was the best during offseason workouts and training camp. That's not saying much. Leftwich hasn't done anything special. But he hasn't been terrible and that may be what the Bucs settle for. They also could consider trading Leftwich, whose experience might bring the most in a trade of any of Tampa Bay's quarterbacks.


The case for Luke McCown: The Bucs have been waiting for months for one of their quarterbacks to step forward. That's happened only twice, both times in last week's preseason game at Jacksonville. McCown drilled two big-time throws for touchdowns and looked way better than he had at any point in the offseason.

Still, that wasn't enough to convince Morris to hand the job to McCown just yet. Makes you wonder how bad his offseason really was or if the Bucs are hoping they can work a trade for McCown. But a big game against Miami might force Morris to go with McCown.

Verdict: I strongly suspect Morris will take the cautious approach and go with Leftwich. But I'd go with McCown or maybe even throw Freeman in from the start. It was established in Leftwich's Jacksonville days that he's not a franchise quarterback. Morris likes to say he's not preparing for failure. But going with Leftwich, who has no upside, sure sounds like the Bucs are aiming for mediocrity.

McCown or Freeman will make mistakes. They also have the chance to get better.