Josh Freeman is the face of the franchise.
Collectively, the Buccaneers will only go as far as his right arm is able to take them. In 2010, Freeman flashed glimpses of his potential and gave Bucs fans several reasons to think of better days ahead by throwing for 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Then, 2011 came along, and Freeman found himself explaining away his erratic play on his way to throwing 22 interceptions.
2012 is a critically important year for Freeman for several reasons. For starters, coach Schiano has no allegiance to him. Meaning, if he doesn't see enough out of No. 5 this season to firmly believe that he's the long-term solution, what's keeping him from going a different route?
After all, coaches—like quarterbacks—are graded on wins and losses. Why would Schiano risk his future on a player he doesn't believe in?
Secondly, Freeman's contract balloons to nearly $10.5 million next season—the final season of his rookie contract. Hypothetically, if Freeman were to put together another season similar to last, the Bucs would then have a financial incentive to part ways as well. After all, if Schiano were interested in bringing in another quarterback, why would they pay Freeman that amount of money?
That said, I firmly believe Freeman will have a bounce-back year in 2012. For one, the addition of receiver Vincent Jackson will do wonders for the passing game as a whole, as too often last season, the receiving corps disappeared completely.
Furthermore, Schiano's commitment to establishing the run, coupled with the addition of rookie running back Doug Martin, should alleviate some of the burden from Freeman's shoulders and subsequently allow them to take calculated shots downfield.
This is a far cry from last season's apparent game plan—snap the ball, run around and throw it up for grabs.