It has come to this: The Buccaneers released one-time franchise quarterback Josh Freeman on Thursday.
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This means a few things:
First, it means Tampa Bay is without its single-season leader in completions and touchdowns — holder of both marks despite being 25 years old. Second, it means the Mike Glennon era has not only begun for the Bucs, it also is inextricably tied to the fate of coach Greg Schiano. And third, it means the Bucs will be paying someone $6.25 million this season to NOT play for them.
All of these things are calamities, regardless of what you think of Josh Freeman as a "franchise" quarterback. Because, let’s face it: There’s plenty of evidence against Josh Freeman as a franchise QB. Here are Freeman’s career numbers as a starter: 24-35 record, 58-percent completion percentage, 80 touchdown passes, 66 interceptions. None of that is particularly good; the completion percentage and win-loss record is particularly poor.
But it gets better. Here are Freeman’s numbers as a starter, but with his outstanding 2010 season taken out of the equation: 14-29 record, 57-percent completion percentage, 55 TD passes, 60 INTs.
If you told an NFL team that it could draft a quarterback in the first round, and in his fifth season in the league he had that resume, that team would pass on that player 100 times out of 100.
Freeman is that quintessential football creature, the one who has a world-beating season, 16 games in which he looks like a legitimate superstar, and then throughout the rest of his career is dogged by the specter of that season. Freeman already had to live up to being a first-round pick; after 2010, he had to live up to being a Pro Bowl-caliber player as well. It didn’t happen.
So, let’s say we agree that Freeman isn’t a franchise-caliber QB, even though I understand if you’d argue the alternative. (2010! Remember 2010! Also, Freeman switched systems/coaches in 2012, and he’s lacked a reliable target over the middle to use as a safety net. There is a path laid out if you’d like to rationalize Freeman’s underachievement.) Even considering that — even if we accept it as a stone-cold fact — the Bucs handled the situation as poorly as they possibly could have.
Short of bringing in Tim Tebow, Tampa Bay could not have created more of a disaster out of their quarterback position if they’d set out with the intention of sabotage. The Bucs began building a case against Freeman before the season, when he was stripped of his captaincy — supposedly by player vote.
Rumors abounded that it was actually the influence of coach Greg Schiano that caused the “vote” to turn out as it did. It doesn’t even matter. If you’re a franchise, and you have any interest in protecting your QB, you would’ve lied to keep him the captain anyway, because anything else is a complete hamstringing of his ability to lead the team.
Still, that was minor — so minor! — compared to what came next: The press finds out that Freeman missed the team photo; the press finds out that Freeman “missed” meetings; the press finds out that maybe Freeman was just told not to go to those meetings; Freeman gets benched for Glennon; more meetings get “missed”; the team tries to fine Freeman; Freeman gets released. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers don’t win a single game out of their first four.
Freeman would have been a free agent after this season. From an organizational perspective, the prudent move would’ve been to let Freeman have his shot at turning the ship around, which probably wouldn’t have happened, and then just let him walk.
Mike Glennon era begins 12 games and one massive headache later than it would have. However, this didn’t happen, and that’s probably because Schiano realized he might not be around to see the end of the season if he didn’t pull the plug on Freeman midway.
The beautiful thing about starting a rookie quarterback is that it’s a move full of potential: When a rookie quarterback’s at the helm, you can always argue that it’s only a matter of time until he turns around. Until he doesn’t, in which case you have to start over. When you start over, it usually costs the coach or GM his job, too, and Schiano almost certainly realizes that if Glennon bombs, he’s gone. But it at least buys him until the end of the season; otherwise, he could’ve been gone by the bye week.
Unfortunately, the mess of this whole situation proves that Schiano shouldn’t be coaching a professional team anyway. These aren’t just students completely at his will: They’re highly valuable commodities. And with Freeman’s release, the Bucs just gave away a football team’s most important commodity — its quarterback — for absolutely nothing.