Gruden's not ready to marry any quarterback

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla., -- Brad Johnson gave him a Super Bowl ring. Chris Simms gave him his spleen. Jeff Garcia gave him a division title and a contract extension.

So what did Jon Gruden give those three quarterbacks in return? The heave-ho in the case of Johnson and Simms and, at very least, the heave for Garcia. Yes, Gruden is playing musical quarterbacks again -- this time yanking the chair out from under Garcia, who had grabbed it about the same time Brett Favre started singing "New York, New York.''

Garcia, who went to the Pro Bowl last season, got pulled in favor of Brian Griese because Gruden doesn't think he is the same guy who went to the Pro Bowl last season.

All around Tampa Bay, which is a region and a body of water, not a city, the conspiracy theories are flying.

Some will tell you Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen are furious at Garcia for not keeping his mouth shut. He had the gall to ask for a raise and a contract extension after he lost out on a few million dollars in incentives last year. He made that crack about Gruden dating, but not marrying quarterbacks in training camp. And, just a few days ago, Garcia made some comment to a local columnist about how difficult it is to be prepared when you've missed almost the entire preseason.

That all got read by the people in the big offices at One Buc Place. They read every word and they're not above being vindictive.

But others will tell you Garcia has a right to be a little hurt -- and we're not talking about his lightly sprained ankle or the calf injury that held him out of most of the preseason. If you believe in loyalty and perfect worlds, Garcia should have gotten a nice raise and an extension that would have paid him until he's about 43. And he sure shouldn't have gotten what he did in training camp.

Garcia was left twisting as the Bucs, without a thought to Garcia's feelings or team chemistry, chased Favre for a couple of weeks. A lot of other teams probably thought Favre was better than their quarterback, too, but they didn't go after him because they thought about the fallout if they got him -- or didn't get him -- in the middle of training camp.

That was Gruden's only mistake as he wooed Favre and dragged Simms -- the guy without a spleen -- through another training camp. If you're going to jump into the fray for Favre, you better get him.

The Bucs didn't and the Jets did.

Maybe Gruden lost Garcia during the whole fiasco. You can almost understand it except for one thing. Gruden has been Gruden for a long time and any quarterback who comes to play for him knows exactly what he's getting into.

Gruden is always going to be looking for someone better. Is that really a fatal flaw in a football coach? Garcia is a big boy -- he's 38 and knows the NFL isn't the real world.

The bottom line is Gruden's the coach and he's going to do whatever he wants to do. That is why he got as far away from Al Davis as he could. Gruden might have done more than anyone to create this mess but, if he thinks Brian Griese gives the Bucs a better chance to win Sunday's game against Atlanta, he's got the right to make that choice.

Garcia didn't look like himself in a loss to the Saints. The fact he was sidelined by a calf injury for most of the turbulent preseason and has been bothered by minor injuries in recent weeks might be mitigating circumstances in the eyes of a lot of coaches.

Not Gruden.

Maybe Gruden is being sincere when he says he wants to give Garcia a week off to get right "physically and emotionally." Gruden is on the practice field every day and he obviously thinks Griese gives the Bucs the best chance to win now. He might be right and, if Griese beats the Falcons, Gruden may have even bigger problems.

It's hard to yank a quarterback after a win and Griese, much like Garcia when he's right, is a proven veteran who probably isn't going to look horrible. If Griese cruises along, it would be awfully hard to turn things back to Garcia. We may never see him on the field for Tampa Bay again, although a league source said the Bucs have no intention of trading Garcia. However, Garcia's contract is up at the end of the season and he's sure to walk if he doesn't get off the sideline.

Then again, it's Gruden and quarterbacks we're talking about. Griese is what he is -- a veteran with no upside. Third-stringer Luke McCown is third string for a reason -- he couldn't jump over Garcia and Griese in the preseason. Rookie Josh Johnson is a project, nowhere near ready to play in an NFL game.

Gruden's still dating. If Griese, or even McCown, isn't stunning, the Senior Prom is coming up and Garcia could start looking pretty good one more time.