Freeman May Have Last Laugh in Minnesota

He may have slept through the team picture, missed meetings and played like a zombie in his final Tampa Bay days, but Rip Van Freeman still could have the last laugh. There he is, with $6 million of the Glazers’ exit money banked away, instantly back as an NFL quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings — and starting on “Monday Night Football,” no less, with the great Adrian Peterson as his stealth backfield weapon.

And there is Greg Schiano, 0-6 at One Hazmat Place, with five losses on the field and one in the way he failed to develop Josh Freeman and neglected to have a suitable replacement at the most important position in team sports. It could be Freeman revives his career and commands a fairly large contract as a free agent in waiting, assuming he shows up on time and doesn’t take Ritalin instead of his prescribed Adderall in the league’s substance-abuse program — if that indeed is the extent of his status — while otherwise staying clean off the field.

As opposed to Schiano, who has about as much chance of returning as Buccaneers coach next season as Gasparilla of showing up on the Raymond James Stadium pirate ship.

When assessing blame for their divorce, both are wrong. Yet Freeman is the one with the chance to thrive again in the big leagues. Schiano? Well, the University of Connecticut job is open. It’s a career free-fall to which Freeman, speaking to the media this week in his new Twin Cities locale, is only too happy to contribute.

“Any time you step into a situation where you’re the new guy, there’s always kind of an awkward, getting-to-know you phase. But I think that goes back to the character of this organization, just from top to bottom — a lot of quality people, people that are dedicated to winning first and foremost, but also being a quality human being off the field.

“It’s been a smooth adjustment. The opportunity to come in here and just focus strictly on football, and this is a storied franchise. … They do things the right way around here.”

Those would be digs, Greg Schiano.

The Vikings even keep the facility clean, unlike the Bucs, who have had three players infected by the difficult-to-treat MRSA bacterium since August. Between staph infections, likely legal action, lackluster on-field performances, last-second losses and a snitch in the house — the NFL Players Association is investigating who in the organization violated a confidentiality clause by leaking information about Freeman’s drug-program participation to ESPN — this is the most dysfunctional franchise in the league, if not all of pro sports. As we wonder if the Glazer family will sell the team and whether Tony Dungy is interested in taking over the football operation and saving the ship, we do know this:

Schiano won’t survive.

It’s bad enough that he has lost 10 of his last 11 games dating to last season and is suspected by the NFLPA of being the Freeman snitch. But where Schiano truly dips into all-time infamy is when he becomes the first coach ever to have his dismissal demanded by a boy-band member. “#FireSchiano,” Backstreet Boy Nick Carter tweeted after the latest loss to Philadelphia.

I want it that way, Nick is saying.

“The only thing I can say to the fans is, if they can hang in there, we’re going to be good,” Schiano said this week. “If they can’t, we’re still going to be good, and they’re welcome back. I’m not being smart; I mean that. If they can hang in there, we’re going to be good.”

Which decade would that be?

As for the snitch accusations, Schiano continues to deny he was the guilty party and says he welcomes the union investigation, echoing the words of general manager Mark Dominik. Um, if you guys are running the organization, why aren’t you launching the investigation? And where oh where are the Glazers? Don’t they realize they have a winless football team AND a public health issue?

Freeman, still just 25, has an opportunity to relaunch his career in a situation with low expectations. When Vikings fans have endured the popgun arm of Christian Ponder and the struggles of backup Matt Cassel, Freeman may look like a savior to them. “I like the things that he’s done in his career, along with what he’s done since he arrived here with our football team,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “The time that he’s put in, how well he’s adapted to our system, and I like his work ethic. He’s done enough for us to say we want to give him this opportunity — which is something we had in mind when we acquired him.

“We think now is the time.”

He will have to play better — much, much better. Freeman can point out Tampa Bay’s organizational flaws all he wants, but in his three starts this season before rookie Mike Glennon replaced him, he completed only 45 percent of his passes with three interceptions and only two TDs. It wasn’t that Schiano didn’t trust him. No one trusted him.

“Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Sure, I do,” Freeman told reporters. “But I think it’s more deeply rooted than just the past six months, 12 months. It’s just wanting to go out and be great, and even deeper than that, Leslie extended his hand, giving me an opportunity to come here.”

It helps that Freeman has an indirect connection to Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who once shared the same philosophies when working with Ron Prince, Freeman’s coach at Kansas State. “I took out my old books and started going through, looking at some of the different principle concepts in the offense, the run game,” Freeman said. “There’s a lot of carryover to different concepts. We’ve just been grinding. Some stuff sticks faster than others, but it’s been good.”

Said Frazier: “I think he’s going to play well.”

If he does, consider it one more reason to fire Greg Schiano.