This, despite setting single-season franchise passing records in yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27). In fact, Freeman's 78 career touchdown passes puts him just ahead of the franchise's all-time mark held by Vinny Testaverde, who threw 77 scoring strikes in his six years in Tampa.
Oh, and the the 2012 Bucs scored more points (389) than any other squad in the team's 36-year history.
So if passing and scoring records aren't enough to secure or at least spark conversation of a long-term deal, how much more can Freeman realistically do in 2013 to change their minds?
To his credit, head coach Greg Schiano hasn't fanned the flames of discontent, having recently said in his end of season press conference:
It was an up-and-down year. But you look at 4,000 yards, records all over the place, there's a lot of positives there. Certainly, when the expectation level is what we make it and then you don't reach that, then there's also disappointment. Josh is probably his own toughest critic. So I don't know if anything I'm going to tell him is going to shock him.
All of which begs an important question: if the team is not willing to extend the contract of the greatest quarterback they've (statistically) ever had, are they willing to trade him if presented with the opportunity?
The question, while not necessarily stemming from anything Schiano or GM Mark Dominik have said, is fair based on the notion that Schiano inherited Freeman and may not be convinced that, long term, he's the right guy for his team.
If true, could Schiano then convince Dominik, the man who traded up to draft Freeman 17th overall in 2009, that the Bucs would be better off without him under center?
One look at the current upcoming draft order and there are several teams at or near the top in desperate need of a franchise quarterback.
Considering this year's draft class doesn't have an Andrew Luck or RGIII-type franchise QB, would one of the above-mentioned franchise's be bold enough to present the Bucs with a trade proposal? If so, what is realistic compensation the Bucs should request?
In 2009, the Broncos traded then 26-year-old quarterback Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick to Chicago in exchange for two first-round and one third-round picks, as well as quarterback Kyle Orton. This followed a 2008 season in which Cutler threw for 4,500-plus yards, 25 TDs and 18 INTs. Numbers that are strikingly similar to those of Freeman.
Using the Cutler-to-Chicago trade as a model for compensation, it would not be out of the question to suggest the Bucs could ask for a similar deal in return, especially when you factor in the following:
- Freeman is nearly two years younger than Cutler was when traded
- Freeman has 56 starts under his belt; Cutler had 37 when traded
- Freeman has 12,963 career passing yards, 3,939 more than Cutler had when traded
- Freeman has 78 career passing TDs; Cutler had 54 when traded
Mind you, the Bucs have the added luxury of knowing they don't have to make a trade, meaning they can set the asking price as high as they'd like and if someone such as Freeman's hometown Chiefs come calling and are willing to make a deal, then they could very well do so.
Then, of course, the Bucs would be left to find a replacement for Freeman—a process many Bucs fans have already publicly started.
But I digress.
In defense of the franchise, I understand the reasoning for delaying extension talks: a desire for a little consistency from their fourth-year starter.
That said, the franchise should also be cognizant of the fact that after next season, Freeman's price tag will increase exponentially—even if they use the franchise tag, which requires clubs to pay designated players the average salary of the five highest-paid players at that particular position.
In other words, if a long-term deal is not reached and the team places a franchise tag on Freeman to avoid losing him to free agency next offseason, Freeman would be paid like a Top 5 quarterback in 2014.
Further, if Freeman is tagged a second time, his 2015 salary would increase by 120 percent; a third franchise tender would cost the Bucs a 144 percent increase of his 2015 salary.
Chew on that for a moment.
The bottom line is this, if the Bucs have no desire to sign Freeman to a contract extension now, it would behoove them to at least listen to inquiries from other teams. And as mentioned earlier, if they're blown away by an offer, then they can make the deal and use the compensation to take the franchise in another direction.
Because at the rate and direction they're headed, any future dialogue with Freeman and his representatives becomes pricier by the touchdown pass.
And while talk may be cheap, dragging their feet much longer certainly won't be.