Josh Freeman Is On The Hot Seat
By Corbin Smith
In the past few seasons, nobody in the NFL has excelled at being inconsistent like Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman. Calling his career a roller coaster would be an understatement, and his performance from week-to-week remains so unpredictable that gauging this team’s potential in 2013 remains a mystery. Clearly, the Buccaneers have brought in excellent upgrades on defense with CB Darrelle Revis and FS Dashon Goldson joining the team this offseason while the offense already featured multiple game changers in RB Doug Martin and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Head coach Greg Schiano wants to lean on a physical ground game, and if OGs Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph come back healthy, the Bucs should be in a great position to do just that.
But question marks still remain at the quarterback position and Schiano knows that his team can only go so far without stellar, consistent play under center. Making matters worse for Freeman, the Buccaneers decision to draft QB Mike Glennon only added to growing speculation that Schiano does not have confidence in the former top pick as the team’s long-term solution at the position.
When asked about Freeman’s status this spring, Schiano made it clear that his team has “only one QB” and that a quarterback controversy remained out of the question despite bringing Glennon on board. As the media has closed in on Tampa Bay’s coach, he has gone to bat for his quarterback and provided the kind of support that should keep Freeman’s confidence high, but how long will Schiano feel that way if he struggles early this season?
One has to wonder how quickly a change would be made in these circumstances. Freeman will be entering his fifth season with the Buccaneers and has had plenty of time to develop a much more consistent game, but he regressed in many aspects as a passer in 2012. While he threw for a career-best 4,065 yards and tossed 27 touchdowns last season, accuracy continues to be a major concern moving forward for the former Kansas State standout. Only Mark Sanchez of the Jets, who has become one of the league's biggest punchlines in recent years, threw for a lower completion percentage than Freeman did last season.
Physically, there might not be a more gifted quarterback in the league than Freeman, who has a powerful arm and great athleticism to go with it. But his ongoing struggles to stay mechanically sound in the pocket coupled with poor judgment while reading opposing defenses have put him into a position where if he does not show major improvements, he could be playing elsewhere next year. With his physical capabilities, someone else would definitely give him a chance if he fails to produce in Tampa. At the end of the day, however, Schiano’s team will not be able to take the next step and become a playoff threat with a quarterback who throws 38 interceptions in a two-year span like Freeman did from 2011-2012.
Bucs GM Mark Dominik and his staff have brought in the talent needed to compete in a division that features a legitimate title contender in Atlanta and two potential playoff contenders in New Orleans and Carolina. But the biggest difference between those three teams and the Buccaneers lies at quarterback. Atlanta and New Orleans have elite talents under center in Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, while Carolina believes Cam Newton will lead his team to the playoffs soon. Schiano remains adamant that Freeman will stay entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback moving forward, but Tampa Bay can't afford to keep waiting on him to reach his potential. He may have a high ceiling, but plenty of players never reach their full potential, and Freeman could become one of those players who never could quite live up to the hype if he does not turn things around soon.
The Bucs need to hope that Freeman puts everything together this season, as his performance could directly impact whether this team contends for a playoff spot or battles for another high draft pick. Management has assembled a roster full of talented players that has Tampa thinking playoffs, but this team will not emerge from mediocrity without a breakout season from Josh Freeman.