TAMPA, Fla. — Josh Freeman must go. At some point, when the time is right, that will be the healthy conclusion for him, coach Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the latest drama at One Buc Place.
The Bucs won’t make a change this week. It may not happen all season. But eventually, perhaps after this fall, Freeman and the Bucs should part ways for the benefit of all involved.
It’s not even Week 2, and the hits on No. 5 keep coming. He missed a team photo because he overslept. There was the odd story questioning whether Schiano fixed the captain vote to keep the “C” off Freeman’s jersey. The chatter about whether Freeman is the right man for Tampa Bay’s future has grown louder since training camp. Schiano said Freeman has been late to team meetings before.
When will it stop?
The Bucs can end it all by beginning the Mike Glennon era sooner than expected. Or Freeman can start fresh elsewhere. Taken alone, none of Freeman’s “offenses” are serious. Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers joked that the Bucs can use Photoshop to make the team photo complete. Schiano said other players have arrived late for team meetings.
But should the quarterback be one of them? There’s enough here to pick up a pattern with Freeman. We see leadership revealed when the pressure is highest: Game-winning drives, playoff pushes, Super Bowls won. But a leader’s trust is gained in small moments, in the details.
“We want everything to be at an elite level,” Schiano said Thursday. “When you have mishaps, you have things where guys don’t do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, does it concern me? Sure it does. But the same guy has done a lot of things that he is supposed to do when he’s supposed to do them.”
Freeman is in his fifth season, so it’s strange to see these problems are possible this late in his career. This isn’t Johnny Manziel oversleeping at the Manning Passing Academy. This is a 25-year-old man paid to be a face of a franchise. Part of his job demands that he handles the details.
After training camp, I thought there was no way Glennon would replace Freeman this season. Freeman still gives the Bucs the best chance to win. The veteran has talent, and he has the look of a long-term successful quarterback if he becomes consistent.
Freeman threw for a franchise-record 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. Glennon, a third-round pick in April, is too raw and unproven. The rookie’s preseason numbers — 33 of 70, 397 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions — show he has a long way to go.
But this is a quarterback-driven league, and if there are concerns about how loose a supposed leader approaches his role, then there will come a time for everyone to move on. The Bucs’ margin of error is too small, given their life in the NFC South.
Can you picture Drew Brees or Matt Ryan in this situation? No. There can’t be questions about Freeman’s commitment to detail.
“The position of quarterback is a position of leadership, and, obviously, missing the team photo is a big deal,” Freeman said. “But it’s been funny, the response from my teammates, they’ve been cool with it. I think they listen to you guys a lot more than I do, but it’s something that I feel badly about.”
I like Freeman. He’s talented. When he plays well, he makes you wonder how good he can be if he cuts down on the mistakes. Oversleeping to miss the team photo is a minor thing. But when grouped with the other static surrounding him, it looks bad. It’s embarrassing.
Perception matters, as it does in all workplaces. Show up late for a staff meeting? A boss remembers. Forget to file an important report by deadline? That leaves an impression. Blow off a conference call? Your commitment is questioned.
Freeman has a perception problem. Some of it isn’t his fault, but stuff like this doesn’t help. He’s a quiet, low-key guy. That bothers some.
In the current NFL, most fans would prefer their quarterback to be more badass than reserved. Most would prefer players with an edge like Aaron Rodgers or Colin Kaepernick or an I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-you-think-about-me personality like Jay Cutler.
That’s not Freeman. We want our leaders to be fearless or at least create the impression that they are. It comforts us. Sometimes, it can rally. Freeman doesn’t fit that mold, and frankly, that’s who he is. That’s OK.
It would be unfair to ask him to fake a persona. Schiano loves guys who eat and breathe the game — guys like guard Davin Joseph and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (both captains). That is the culture he has created at One Buc Place, and that’s his right as the boss.
Remember, Freeman was Raheem Morris’ selection, not Schiano’s. Who knows how much that matters, but it’s fact. I don’t think the Schiano-Freeman relationship is as strained as some make it seem, but the personality differences between the two can’t be ignored.
There is a way for Freeman and Schiano to co-exist, of course. They can win. Eli Manning had a perception problem before he won two Super Bowls and appeared in the Pro Bowl three times. Early in his career, some viewed him as too mopey and detached. He earned the right to step from Peyton’s shadow and be considered elite.
Freeman can change his perception too. Problem is, I don’t see him doing it with Tampa Bay. Perhaps these small missteps reveal something greater: That both he and the Bucs will need a fresh start soon.
Freeman has the potential to become a franchise face for a long time, one who doesn’t have to answer the question, “Do you trust your coach?”
I wonder if he needs to go somewhere else to make it happen.