TAMPA, Fla. — Josh Freeman has always had the look of someone who could be a franchise face in the NFL. He’s 6-foot-6, 240 pounds with a strong right arm that has been at times both tantalizing because of its potential and aggravating because of its inconsistency.
That imbalance has become the dominant narrative of Freeman’s four-plus seasons in the league, and it proved to be a reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin the Mike Glennon Era on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium, as confirmed by FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez on Wednesday morning.
In a win-now league, where confidence is so important, Freeman ran out of time and lost the faith of his coach, general manager and ownership. In a bottom-line business, where results matter more than promise, Freeman showed he couldn’t deliver when it mattered most.
“Mark [Dominik, GM] and I believed that this was the best thing to do for our football team,” Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said. “So if we felt that way, we felt it was time to execute it.”
This move is somewhat surprising, given the timing. Why not wait until next week, the bye week, to move past Freeman? But his benching shows the urgency of the situation at One Buc Place, where Tampa Bay is 0-3 for the first time since going 0-7 in 2009. This wasn’t what the pewter-and-red faithful had in mind when a “No Fly Zone” was constructed in the offseason with the decorated signings of safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Schiano’s reasoning for making the move now makes sense on a number of levels. The Cardinals are beatable, so moving past Freeman before the Arizona game avoids a possible awkward scenario where the coach would have to explain benching a quarterback coming off a victory. Freeman’s situation deteriorated so quickly that the Bucs found it in their best interests to distance themselves from a possible image issue.
They viewed Freeman as a damaged commodity, no better than an unproven rookie who struggled in the preseason. Consider that Freeman set franchise records for passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27) last season. The decision shows how unforgiving this business can be and how eager the Bucs were to move beyond him.
“I always said I’m down for Free, but whoever the coach decides as the starter, that’s who I’m working with,” Bucs guard Carl Nicks said. “We really have no choice. That’s what it is.”
This choice is Glennon, a typical rookie. He’s raw and unproven. He showed little in the preseason, when he went 33 for 70 with 397 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. The third-round pick isn’t Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. The Glennon experiment will likely be a rocky ride to start.
But it’s clear Schiano and Dominik are willing to take a few bumps, if it means a potential larger payoff later. Clearly, they have weighed that choice and decided the Glennon Era has more upside than a former first-round choice who never reached his potential.
We’ll see if they’re right.
“He just said ‘congrats,'” Glennon said of Freeman. “Josh is a great guy. He’s really helped me along the way, and he’s been nothing but helpful already. He seems to be approaching it (well).”
This is Schiano’s quarterback position now. No more wishy-washy endorsements of a player he never drafted. No more questions about his relationship with a player he had no hand in bringing into the league. No more marriage of coincidence.
This is a beginning, sure, but also an end. September couldn’t have gone worse for Freeman. His 59.3 passer rating ranks last in the league. His 45.7 completion percentage ranks last in the league. He threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). Dating back to last season, the Bucs have lost eight of nine games. But if they open at least 2-1 instead of 0-3 this year (a real possibility), he likely starts against Arizona and beyond.
Freeman is to blame for most of this, though. The NFL is a perception business, and his image took hit after hit this month. The missed team photo. The knowledge, from Schiano, that he had been late to other team meetings. Then, most damaging of all, there’s the realization that a huddle with Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph should average more than a meager 282 yards per game.
Is that what a franchise should want in a quarterback?
No, absolutely not. Who knows if Schiano was eager to give Freeman the hook as early as the draft last April? But Freeman made a parting of ways easier with his poor play. What a wasted opportunity for him.
Freeman’s time with the Bucs, whenever it ends for good, will be remembered for unmet promise, inconsistency and the realization that he should have been better. This was his job after training camp. As recently as Monday, Schiano voiced his support for Freeman as the starter. That stance changed after intense meetings with Dominik. Freeman lost this role.
“It’s just an organizational decision,” Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams said. “That’s what we’ve got to go by. This is who we work for. They make the decisions here.”
Freeman forced others’ hand to make this move, though. Can you blame them? Aside from two visible last-drive blunders, against the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints, the Bucs’ defense is playing at a postseason-worthy level. The offense must do its part.
This was a team build to win now, plain and simple, and Freeman’s lackluster play was an obvious hit to those plans. At least at the start, Glennon’s performance likely will be erratic as well. Sometimes, the best-constructed visions are scrambled once reality sets in.
Freeman always had the look of someone who could be great.