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Monday, March 9, 2009
Garcia owns credentials, but no job

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Jeff Garcia
Jeff Garcia has played for five teams in the past six seasons, including the past two campaigns with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Through either trades or free agency, seven veteran quarterbacks have switched teams in the NFL over the past three weeks.

But none of the seven is named Jeff Garcia.
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Only one of them, Jon Kitna, the new Dallas Cowboys backup, remotely can approximate Garcia's fairly impressive accomplishments in the league.

Yet, two weeks into his latest experience with unrestricted free agency, Garcia is still without a job. His phone rarely rings with job offers.

The silence that surrounds Garcia is deafening and one of the real puzzles of early free agency.

Perhaps his age, 39, and his itinerant background -- Garcia has played for five different franchises in six seasons -- are culprits. Maybe the travel tags have become baggage. Yet it seems teams clearly want to get younger at the quarterback position -- but not necessarily better.

Before free agency began in February, Tampa Bay Buccaneers officials told Garcia that he should not plan on a third season with the team. Luke McCown has been anointed the new starting quarterback. Garcia took the abrupt demotion in stride.

He is certainly flexible about his future role in the league. Garcia is just as strident about not retiring, not when he feels he is coming off two very good seasons in Tampa Bay, and has a couple more good years in him.

In his two seasons with the Bucs, Garcia was 14-10 as a starter, took his team from last place in 2006 to the playoffs in 2007. He thought he had provided much-needed stability at a position which historically has been a revolving door of sorts for the team.

Yet less-experienced quarterbacks such as Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo), Dan Orlovsky (Houston), J.T. O'Sullivan (Cincinnati), Chris Simms (Denver) and Matt Cassel (Kansas City) have found jobs. The presumptive starter with the Minnesota Vikings is Sage Rosenfels, a journeyman who has 12 regular-season starts compared with Garcia's 116, and whose history has been marked with turnovers.

In a league where several teams are at least still seeking backup quarterbacks, it's hard to imagine that the accomplished Garcia could well be the odd man out when clubs report to training camp this summer.

But until his telephone rings, or someone contacts agent Steve Baker about him, that's exactly how it is. Jeff Garcia is a man without a team and that's beyond frustrating. Despite the movement in free agency, several veterans remain unemployed, but few possess Garcia's résumé.

"I'm not saying what my role will be [in the NFL in 2009], but it's frustrating right now," Garcia recently told The Tampa Tribune. "What's especially frustrating, after knocking around for a while, is that I know I can still play. The two seasons with the Bucs really rejuvenated my career. The juices are flowing again … and I couldn't always say that."

Two years ago, then-coach Jon Gruden convinced Garcia to sign with the Bucs. But Gruden, who struggled after the franchise's Super Bowl XXXVII victory, is gone. And so, it seems, is Garcia's safety net.

"I guess it's time again to find another new team," said Garcia, who had hoped to conclude his playing career with the Bucs.

"He's on the radar screen … but right now, he's a blip," said one NFC pro personnel chief, who asked for anonymity. He admires Garcia, does not want to embarrass the veteran, and hopes the former San Jose State star returns to the league -- just not with his team.

Garcia is one of only seven quarterbacks in NFL history to have back-to-back seasons of 30 or more touchdown passes. He has thrown for more than 25,000 career yards, with an almost 2-1 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions (161-83). Among the seven quarterbacks who have found new teams, only Kitna has thrown for more yards (27,293 compared with Garcia's 25,537), and none of them has more touchdown passes. Take Kitna out of the equation, and Garcia has thrown more touchdown passes than the other six combined.

Garcia has been to four Pro Bowl games, the most recent only two seasons ago. Garcia has rung up a winning record of 59-57, not terribly impressive. But he has not played on a strong team since being traded by the San Francisco 49ers -- who made the playoffs in 2001 and 2002 under Garcia -- to the Cleveland Browns for salary-cap purposes in 2004. In one of his few standout seasons since then, Garcia replaced an injured Donovan McNabb toward the end of the 2006 season, and led the Philadelphia Eagles to a playoff berth.

His reward that year was much the same as it has been this spring: no new contract.

The veteran quarterback -- a former Canadian Football League star who entered the NFL at 29 -- left his heart in San Francisco, along with most of his best days as a difference-maker in the league.

But given a chance, Garcia feels like he can summon up some glory days once again. Yet, while younger, less experienced quarterbacks get jobs, Garcia is stuck in the unemployment line.

And like a lot of Americans during this financial crisis, he wonders how he got there.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.