TAMPA, Fla. — The Josh Freeman-Tampa Bay Buccaneers split has happened.
On Thursday, general manager Mark Dominik decided to part ways with the fifth-year veteran quarterback, formerly the face of the franchise. It ends an odd, contentious eight-day period between the franchise and the former No. 17 overall pick after Freeman was benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon on Sept. 25.
Per Fox NFL Insider Jay Glazer, the Bucs had contact with each NFL team about trading Freeman but couldn’t find a willing partner. The Bucs are responsible for paying the rest of Freeman’s salary, which is about $6.25 million.
“We made the decision today to release Josh Freeman,” Dominik said in a statement. “We appreciate his efforts over the past five seasons, but we felt this was in the best interests of both Josh and the Buccaneers.”
Freeman, 25, began the season as the team’s clear favorite at quarterback. He threw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last season — both franchise records — and figured to be surrounded with complementary weapons in running back Doug Martin and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams to try to clinch the Bucs’ first playoff berth since the 2007 season.
However, Freeman’s play suffered early. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a Week 1 loss to the New York Jets. Then he completed 9 of 22 passes for 125 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a Week 2 loss to the New Orleans Saints. In his last start, a loss to the New England Patriots in Week 3, he completed 19 of 41 passes for 236 yards with one interception.
The off-the-field turmoil, however, led to this divorce. First, there was the revelation that he wasn’t voted team captain for the first time in three years. Then came knowledge that he missed a team photo on Labor Day because he overslept. Then coach Greg Schiano alluded to the fact that Freeman had been late to other team meetings. One day after his benching was announced, Freeman granted ESPN a sit-down interview, unauthorized by the team, and said a trade would be best for him.
Originally, Bucs coach Greg Schiano had made Freeman the team’s No. 2 quarterback after Glennon’s promotion. But Schiano’s tone changed last Friday, the day after the ESPN interview, when asked if Freeman still held the status.
“I feel like this has been a focus all week,” Schiano said then, when asked about Freeman. “I’m not going to go there. Ninety minutes before the game, I’m going to name who our active 46 players are — the guys that are up and we’re going to play. I’m locked in now and our team is locked in. I’m done discussing all that other stuff.”
On Sunday, Freeman was declared inactive for the Bucs’ Week 4 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, instead asked by the team to watch the game from a suite at Raymond James Stadium, a decision Schiano called “mutual.” Glennon completed 24 of 43 passes for 193 yards with one touchdown, but he threw two interceptions in the closing minutes that allowed the Cardinals to rally from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Afterward, Freeman was seen walking out of the stadium, toward a player’s parking lot. But he refused comment.
On Monday, Freeman admitted to living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder after his private medical information was leaked in an ESPN report that revealed he’s a Stage One participant in the NFL’s drug program. Freeman, in a stern statement released that night, said he accidentally took Ritalin instead of his Adderall prescription and tested positive for Ritalin. In the statement, he said he agreed to repeated and unannounced testing, which resulted in his placement in the program.
“Let me be very clear. I have NEVER tested positive for any illegal drugs or related substances,” Freeman’s statement began. “Further, I have agreed to take, and have PASSED 46 NFL-regulated drug tests over the last year and a half.”
The drama didn’t end there, though. On Wednesday night, the Bucs revealed in a report by the Tampa Tribune that Freeman had been fined more than $35,000 in recent weeks for offenses that included the unauthorized national television interview, two missed meetings last Friday and arriving late for the team meal and the team bus before the game against the Jets.
By Wednesday afternoon, some players appeared tired of discussing the Freeman saga. The Bucs have a bye this week, but Freeman participated in three light practices in recent days at the team facility.
“Man, are we going to talk about the Bucs and football?” offensive tackle Donald Penn said, when asked about Freeman. ”Are we going to talk about the Bucs? Do you want to know about what we need to do going against Philly (in Week 6) or anything about that? Because this Freeman stuff is getting old.”
Guard Davin Joseph was more diplomatic.
“There’s life out there for anybody,” he said Wednesday. “Just because this might not be the place for Josh doesn’t mean that his career is over with. He has a bright career ahead of him. He has all the tools in the toolbox. It’s just about finding the right fit for Josh. I think it’s to come.”