Josh Freeman welcomes reinforcements from draft
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Josh Freeman shrugs off questions about his future with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, saying he prefers to focus on what he can do to make himself a better player now.
The fifth-year pro has one season remaining on the contract he signed as the 17th overall pick of the 2009 NFL draft and insists he doesn't feel any additional pressure to prove he's the franchise's long-term solution at quarterback.
The Bucs don't have a first-round pick in the NFL draft after trading for cornerback Darrelle Revis, however adding pieces to help Freeman achieve his goal of getting the Bucs back to the playoffs figure to be a priority in later rounds.
The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman set franchise records by throwing for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012, but also struggled down the stretch as the Bucs dropped five of their last six games to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
Freeman said his contract status will not affect his approach to the upcoming season.
"Not at all. I give it my all, regardless. ... I love my teammates. I love football. I love winning. It really doesn't change anything for me," Freeman said.
"Obviously I love being a Buccaneer. My job is to go out and find a way to win. Worrying about any sort of external forces, contract or whatever -- you can't worry about that. It's not going to make you play better," he added. "You've just got to focus on the things that are going to help you go out and play better on Sundays and win."
Freeman is excited about the roster general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano are assembling around him.
The Bucs traded their pick in the opening round of this year's draft -- No. 13 overall -- to the New York Jets in exchange for Revis. The three-time All-Pro cornerback will be counted on to make a difference in the league's worst pass defense.
Barring another trade, Tampa Bay is not scheduled to have another selection until the 11th pick of the second round -- No. 43 overall -- on Friday night.
Revis, who also agreed to a six-year, $96 million contract, said during an introductory news conference that he felt the Bucs had all the components of a playoff team, even before acquiring him.
"I think we have a lot of talent. I think we have the desire," said Freeman, the third quarterback selected in the 2009 draft behind Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.
"You've got guys who are willing to come in and work. We've got a great coaching staff," the 25-year-old added. "I definitely think this team has the potential" to have a big year.
Despite the acquisition of Revis, cornerback remains a priority entering the draft. The Bucs also could be in the market for a tight end, change-of-pace running back and maybe even a quarterback during the three-day selection process.
Veteran Dan Orlovsky is Freeman's backup, however Schiano has expressed a desire to improve the depth at the position by creating some competition.
"I'm not opposed to it," Dominik said of the prospect of adding a quarterback to the mix.
The GM said obtaining Revis increased the team's flexibility for the remainder of the draft. It also provided Dominik and Schiano with the comfort that they addressed the team's biggest need with a proven player who's only 27.
"You win in this league with your starters and your stars. ... We have a lot of young talent that's all maturing at the same time. They're all in the early 20's to their late 20's," Dominik said, adding that Tampa Bay's roster currently includes eight players who have appeared in at least one Pro Bowl.
Dominik said the club accomplished more by acquiring Revis than it ever could have reasonably expected by keeping the 13th pick in the draft and using the money they spent to sign Revis to a long-term contract on several other players in free agency because the Bucs landed the elite player at his position.
"To me, I'd rather spend it this way and make sure we come out with the player we want to believe in and do believe in that can be an impact starter and really change us as a defense," Dominik said.
"I looked at the draft board. We looked at the different options. But at the end of the day, as much as you can research a young man, trying to get as much information as you can, it's still a draft," he added. "This is a known commodity that we really strongly believe in."
And, Freeman believes in himself.
He led the Bucs to a 10-6 record in his second full season as a starter, narrowly missing the playoffs in 2010. The team improved from four wins in 2011 to seven a year ago, but it wasn't enough to stop conjecture about whether he indeed is the right quarterback to lead Tampa Bay beyond 2013.
"It bothers me a lot, knowing the type of team we have and our capabilities, being close but not quite getting there," Freeman said of his failure to get to the playoffs.
"The only reason you play this game, you want to go out and win. You want to win championships. You want to walk away and have a hand full of rings," he added. "The drive's there. The intensity is there. We've just got to find a way put it all together."