Josh Freeman is going to make an interesting reclamation project

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Well, that didn’t take long. Just three games into the season, the Buccaneers announced today that they’ll be benching Josh Freeman for rookie quarterback, Mike Glennon. It’s been a precipitous fall from grace for Freeman who at one time was considered to be one of the rising young stars of the league. So where did it all go wrong for Freeman? Possibly from the very start.

Freeman entered the league in 2009 with other first round quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. Since then, there’s been a slew of successful young signal-callers that have emerged. Hell, even Geno Smith – a guy who most thought was just a passenger on the Jets’ runaway train toward inevitable disaster – has turned the Jets into a semi-respectable team. Obviously, rules changes geared at making games more pass-friendly and Higher $coring have had something to do with it, but still. Looking around it’s almost alarming how many good quarterbacks there are.

Josh Freeman was once thought to be one of those good quarterbacks. But unlike guys such as Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson, Josh Freeman has been without something we’ve seen to be a vital part of developing a young quarterback:

A stable environment.

There’s no science or advanced stats that can tell how a player would have fared in other situations, but I think most can agree that had Russell Wilson been drafted by say, the Cleveland Browns – a team unlike the Seahawks without an elite defense or running back – things might not be so rosy. Even Aaron Rodgers admitted that without sitting behind Brett Favre and learning the ropes he might not have become the player he is today.

So what kind of situation did Freeman come into? Only one of the most dysfunctional shitshows in all of football.

If you recall, Freeman’s rookie year started out under Raheem Morris, a 33 year-old, first time head coach who spent his career beforehand working with defensive backs and who eventually became known for making weird comments and generally, having no fucking clue what he’s doing. Eventually Morris got canned and the Buccaneers decided that after writing several Publisher’s Clearinghouse-sized checks to a bunch of aging, disgruntled free agents, the best candidate to sculpt a young quarterback was Greg Schiano. To date, here’s what Schiano’s coaching legacy has entailed:

  •  Being a tough guy in press conferences
  •  Cannonballing another team’s victory formation
  •  Losing a ton of games in a row
  •  Possessing the biggest ears of any human being, ever

And that was all before this season. His sophomore debut thus far has included stripping Freeman of his captaincy in a vote some thought was rigged and whose grinding,  “My way or GTFO” style of coaching is already wearing thin on his veteran players.

Gee, I wonder why Freeman hasn’t been such a raging success?

It hasn’t just been the head coaches, either. As previously mentioned, the management of the Bucs hasn’t done Freeman any favors. And this year, Schiano hired John McNulty – the same guy who was responsible for the John Skelton/Max Hall/Kevin Kolb dumpster fire in Arizona – to be Freeman’s quarterback coach. It’s all starting to make sense now.

Of course, Freeman has to shoulder some of the blame. His mechanics aren’t the best, he’s been at times, wildly inconsistent and as Peter King mentioned today, Freeman since the start of 2012 has a lower completion percentage than Brandon Weeden and Blaine effing Gabbert. That’s not good company. In fact, Freeman’s completion percentage this season is under 50% – a number that should get you benched.

But among all the suckage of the Buccaneers over the last four years, one season sticks out. 2010. It’s the year that Freeman’s defenders (like me) frequently reference as evidence that underneath it all, lies a really good quarterback. To wit, the Buccaneers that year went 10-6 and Freeman threw 25 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions. That’s a TD to INT ratio of more than 4:1. The only other quarterbacks to do that since 2009?

Aaron Rodgers

Tom Brady

Brett Favre

Now that is good company. If that seems like cherry picking, The Big Lead’s Jason Lisk pointed out that in that same year,

“Freeman was average or better in all the key indicators: yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdown rate, interception rate, and sack rate. The only other guys to do that in a season by age 24: Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar, Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Brett Favre, Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford.”

That brings up another thing about Freeman. He’s 25 years old. Even with four years of erratic play to point to, that’s still way too early to give up on a quarterback who’s shown the kind of ability Freeman has.

But the Buccaneers have given up on him. Which now makes Freeman an intriguing possibility for another team in need of a quarterback. And while it’s easy to say Freeman isn’t worth trading for, consider a couple of things. First, his stock is low. Like, bottomed out kind of low. If you think Freeman can be salvaged and you’re a team like, oh I don’t know, the Vikings, Browns (assuming they’re not in tank mode) or hell, the Steelers if you want to stash him for a year while figuring out if Roethlisberger is ever going to get healthy, isn’t he worth a mid-round draft pick?

The other thing to think about is Freeman’s potential in the right system. We tend to marvel at the immediate success of young quarterbacks these days like Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck that we forget about another guy who very recently experienced a career renaissance of his own:

Alex Smith.

Remember, Smith was a quarterback who like Freeman, suffered through years of organizational turbulence and coaching ineptitude before Jim Harbaugh showed up. After that, Smith posted by far his best season as a pro in 2011 and was on his way toward an even better year in 2012 before getting concussed and ultimately, replaced.

Certainly, there are more examples of veteran quarterbacks who’ve switched teams only to wind up doing more of the same in a different uniform. But most of them weren’t in their mid-20’s. Most of them weren’t 6’5 and most didn’t make several throws per game that reminded you of Roethlisberger in his prime. Whether Freeman ever gets near that same level he was back in 2010, I don’t know. But I do know one thing.

I’ll be watching.

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