Leaf blows into Tampa
Former Chargers QB hopes for new start with Bucs
Updated: Wednesday March 21, 2001 7:36 AM
The first-round bust with the San Diego Chargers not only thinks the Bucs have the potential to become a Super Bowl contender, but he envisions himself benefitting from a role as backup quarterback to Brad Johnson.
"I'm the type of person that is kind of impatient and wants that instant playing time. But this was the best thing for me and for the long run to rejuvenate my career," Leaf said Tuesday, a day after agreeing to a restructured contract that will pay him about $10 million over three years.
"I'm going to have to be patient. That's definitely true. It's never been a strong suit for me, but I think when you're winning and have a chance to play in the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl that takes the edge off. When you're sitting on the bench and losing, you feel like you could be doing something."
Tampa Bay signed Johnson to a five-year, $28 million contract three days later, which initially dampened Leaf's enthusiasm about the Bucs.
But after talking with family, friends and his old coach at Washington State, he decided to fly in and get a feel for the organization. He said he liked everything from the sons of owner Malcolm Glazer to the club's cramped training facility, which reminds him of his college days.
"I kind of had my mind made up that I wasn't going to be a Buc," said Leaf, who will earn about $1.5 million each of the next two seasons before his salary jumps to $7 million in 2003.
"I'm glad everything got done early, so I'm able to be here for the offseason program ... and really have a stress-free offseason and develop into the player I know I can be."
Johnson will replace Shaun King as the starter, while Leaf will be given an opportunity to compete for the No. 2 job. The quarterback picture also includes two other holdovers, Joe Hamilton and Ted White.
While Leaf said he can accept being a backup, he conceded he probably wouldn't have agreed to remain with Tampa Bay if coach Tony Dungy had given him the impression that being No. 2 was the ceiling for him.
"They used a very good selling point. Steve Young went to San Francisco and won a Super bowl on the bench," he said. "But then when he got his opportunity he won one as a starter. This team has that capability and I don't see it going down any time soon."
General manager Rich McKay said he wasn't sure what to expect when Leaf arrived.
The Dallas Cowboys contacted the Bucs about trading for Leaf, but McKay said the Bucs didn't claim him to trade him.
"He had a lot of things going on and was hearing from a lot of different opinions about what was best for Ryan Leaf," McKay said.
"I think what we wanted was just the opportunity to bring him into town and show him what we were about, and how we do business. Was I confident he would see it our way? I don't know. Probably not. Probably 50-50."
In San Diego, Leaf alienated management, teammates and fans with boorish behavior.
He didn't win anybody over on the field either, going 4-14 as a starter and throwing 33 interceptions compared to 13 touchdown passes in three seasons.
"In San Diego, I made a lot of mistakes and I think they made a lot of mistakes as well," Leaf said.
"For me, it's something in the past. I learned a lot from it and I hope it will help me in the future ... I probably handled some things wrong, but this is a new start and a new opportunity for me."