Where Have You Gone Ryan Leaf?


Buccaneers head coach, Tony Dungy – one the most kind, understanding men in the profession – was the next to be tantalized by Leaf's physical talent. He convinced the man-child that Tampa would be the perfect place to restart his career. They would be patient with the troubled QB, let him watch and learn – something that didn't happen in San Diego. Leaf also seemed committed to Tampa, buying a house in a gated community nearby.

The problem was Leaf's wrist still hadn't healed and, even though the doctors had strongly advised it, he refused to have surgery. Despite the injury, he appeared in all four of Tampa's preseason games, completing just 7 of 19 passes for 81 yards with an interception. Unimpressed with his performance, the Bucs asked Leaf to lower his base salary from $900,000 to $700,000. He refused and was released five days before the season began.

The Dallas Cowboys, who expressed interest Leaf earlier, were set to sign him just days later. His ailing wrist however, caused the journeyman QB to fail his physical. For some reason, Dallas Cowboys maverick owner Jerry Jones remained enamored with the star-crossed QB and, after of month of rest, Leaf's wrist was in good enough shape for him to pass a physical and become a Cowboy.

In Dallas, Leaf appeared in four games, all losses, and posted typical, lackluster numbers – 45 of 88 for 494 yards, 1 TD, and 3 picks. He was released in May 2002. The vagabond QB wasn't out of chances; the Seattle Seahawks quickly snatched him off the waiver wire.

Mike Holmgren's plan in Seattle mirrored Dungy's in Tampa: bring Leaf along slowly by letting him watch from the sidelines as a third stringer. Leaf showed up for the Seahawks spring mini-camps and seemed upbeat, but on July 27, on the eve of training camp, he suddenly retired. The 26-year-old offered no real explanation for this decision and didn't address his future plans.

By all accounts, Leaf's attitude and demeanor improved after his departure from San Diego. Tony Dungy, Dave Campo, and Mike Holmgren all touted him as a team player, hard worker, and good guy. Ironically, it was Leaf's health and ability that betrayed him: his wrist never healed properly and his on-field decision making skills didn't develop.

by David Zingler