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It's Now Or Never For Josh Freeman

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Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman is still on the outside looking in when it comes to the discussion of elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman is still on the outside looking in when it comes to the discussion of elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

Entering his fifth year as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Josh Freeman is clearly at a crossroads. Although he and his second-year head coach, Greg Schiano, continue to downplay the importance of Freeman’s progression into one of the NFL’s elite at the position, the pressure couldn’t be heavier for the 2009 first-round pick out of Kansas State.

The goal for the Bucs in 2013 is simple: Get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, when they won the NFC South. And that was two years, and a different coaching staff, before Freeman arrived at One Buc Place. Three out of the last four seasons Tampa Bay has finished with a losing record – a combined 24-40, with the lone winning record coming in 2010 when the team finished 10-6 but failed to make the postseason.

As if those stats weren’t enough of a load on the 6-6, 248-pounder's back, for the first time in his young career he will have the shadow of competition clouding his spotlight. That shadow stands 6-7 and is former N.C. State star Mike Glennon – Tampa’s third-round pick of the 2013 draft. Despite the fact Dan Orlovsky, the Bucs’ only other listed quarterback, has already taken a back seat to the rookie, the old saying goes, “The most popular guy on the football team is the backup QB.” By the time preseason concludes on Aug. 29, Glennon could very well be that guy.

Having said that, however, Freeman is coming off what was a statistically strong 2012 season – one in which he threw for career-highs of 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns, along with an 81.6 completion percentage. In 2010, his first season as a full-time starter in the league, Freeman finished at a career-best rate of 95.9, threw 25 TDs to just six interceptions and rushed for 364 yards – the latter also a career-best.

In a division stacked with franchise QBs in Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Carolina’s Cam Newton, to say Freeman has his work cut out for him in 2013 is more than a slight understatement. Unlike when he arrived in Tampa four years ago as the quarterback of the future, Freeman’s time is now.

The comfort and stability he once had as the undisputed leader of the Bucs offense is a thing of the past.