The Tampa Bay Buccaneers severed ties with quarterback Josh Freeman this week, unable to find a willing trade partner who would fork over approximately $6 million in what remains of his rookie contract, and subsequently releasing him.
But that doesn’t mean teams weren’t interested in picking up the 25-year signal caller with a cannon of an arm and a knack for improv whose development was somewhat marred by three different offensive coordinators and four quarterbacks coaches in five years.
Teams simply knew they could get a better deal on him after his release since the Bucs would still be paying a big chunk of his salary. That means less risk on a significant investment, even if it’s only for a year.
So now teams have done their homework on Freeman, not just in re-visiting their scouting reports of him coming out after his junior season at Kansas State, but also in determining if he’s a fit for their organization. In other words, “Does he carry baggage?”
Some would say he came from a toxic environment in Tampa Bay. Was that the result of a feud with head coach Greg Schiano that had reached a boiling point or was it his own doing? Either way, they’ve done their digging to see if he’s got a good head on his shoulders and can lead a team.
It appears multiple organizations believe he can. According to Jason La Canfora, three suitors have emerged making a strong case for landing him — the Buffalo Bills, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Minnesota Vikings.
So what has made Freeman attractive to teams, aside from just sheer need for a good quarterback?
He’s 25, younger than Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick. He has a lot of football life left and is still groomable. The arm strength is there to make big downfield throws. The potential mobility is there too, which is seen as an upside given today’s offenses, although he was relegated to more of a drop-back system the last two years.
He’s also durable at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and can take a hit or two without wincing. Since making his first NFL start in Week 9 of the 2009 season, Freeman has missed one game — a 38-19 loss to the Carolina Panthers in 2011. Freeman missed that game due to a shoulder injury.
Then there are the well-documented fourth-quarter comebacks — nine of them, with 10 game-winning drives.
There is, of course, Inconsistent play that has plagued him at times in his career. He’s admitted to trying to do too much by forcing things. He’s thrown 80 touchdowns and 66 interceptions in his career. His short-to-intermediate throws need to improve as well.
In the right system, where he’s not forced to throw the ball 40 times a game, he can thrive. Take a look at his 2010 season under offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who is now with the Oakland Raiders. Freeman had 474 passing attempts — just under 30 per game — throwing 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and leading the Bucs to a 10-6 record and just narrowly missing the playoffs.
A good coach and a savy GM will see past the 24-35 career win-loss record and the high number of picks and recognize that he was, in a lot of ways, been a product of organizational instability.
There’s also the benching, however. Freeman said he didn’t believe he was comfortable serving in a back-up role in Tampa Bay. If he underperforms in his next stint, will he feel the same if demoted? My hunch is, hopefully not, since expectations will be mapped out ahead of time (at least one can hope).
You’ll notice that La Canfora didn’t mention the Oakland Raiders or the Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams that have lacked coaching consistency over the last several years and have had a lot of organizational turnover. That suggests Freeman isn’t looking for a short-term one-year tryout with a team, and instead wants to replant his roots, or at least have an opportunity to.
(Upon further review…I won’t rule the Raiders out. His relationship with Olson could be a real difference-maker).
Now as far as planting roots…that could be difficult in San Francisco, a team that has gone essentially ‘all-in’ with Colin Kaepernick.
In Buffalo, there is an immediate need for a quarterback after E.J. Manuel suffered a sprained knee against the Cleveland Browns. Manuel was a first-round draft pick this year, though, meaning the organization has somewhat of a commitment to it.
The Vikings may be the most attractive destination for him in terms of potential, but Matt Cassel stepped in and started in place of injured Christian Ponder last week, winning 34-27 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team may not to disrupt what appears to be a good thing.
A decision for Freeman could come as early as Monday morning or even Sunday night.