Why 2013 Is a Make-or-Break Year for Josh Freeman

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Why 2013 Is a Make-or-Break Year for Josh Freeman
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Kingda Ka has nothing on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.

Let me help you out before you’re forced to do your own research. Kingda Ka is the world’s tallest roller coaster, standing 45 stories high and rushing through its extreme ups, downs and turns at 128 miles per hour.

Freeman’s four-year career in the NFL has been filled with similar twists and turns, and as the former first-round pick from Kansas State enters the final year of his contract, Freeman knows the 2013 season is of the utmost importance.

It’s put up or shut up time for Freeman, and everything is at stake.

Because the last three seasons have been filled with unsettling inconsistency, instead of feeling safe in his job after throwing for a career-high 4,065 yards last year Freeman will be fighting for his job in 2013.

"I think Coach (Greg Schiano) wants to find out if Josh is the guy because Josh shows moments of complete brilliance," Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber said on the NFL Network show NFL Total Access on Monday. "Yet he gives you the moments where you're scratching your head as well. It's kind of reflective of our season and as a whole last year.

Barber went on to see that Freeman has all the intangibles to be Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback, but the Bucs "need him to be that player with more consistency."

Freeman’s 2012 season can easily be split into three separate sample sizes. During the first three weeks of the year, Freeman never threw the football more than 28 times and averaged just over 163 passing yards per game. The passing scheme was very vanilla and built to limit mistakes by Freeman.

In Week 4 Freeman exploded for 299 yards through the air on 39 passing attempts, and the Buccaneers allowed Freeman a few opportunities to air the ball out deep. It turns out Freeman’s deep passing skills were a weapon, and the coaching staff spent the Week 5 bye week looking for ways to unleash their signal-caller.

Over the next six weeks Tampa Bay looked like a playoff  team, and Freeman looked like a Pro Bowl passer. From Week 6 to Week 11, Freeman threw for 1,715 yards and threw 16 touchdowns to only three interceptions. The Buccaneers won five of six games during that stretch.

The final six games of the year were forgettable, if only Freeman could wipe them from his memory. Tampa Bay lost five games in a row, winning only its final game of the season, and Freeman threw 10 interceptions and only six touchdown passes.

The middle portion of Freeman’s season is exactly what Tampa Bay expects of Freeman, and he set the bar high by showing he could pull off those numbers. But this isn’t the only time Freeman’s showed excellence.

During the 2010 season, his second year in the NFL, Freeman blossomed. He finished the year with his highest quarterback rating ever and threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.

Then Freeman briskly rode his personal roller coaster as it plummeted the following year. Freeman threw 22 interceptions in 2011 and only 16 touchdown passes. He’s living proof after three-and-a-half seasons as the Tampa Bay starting quarterback that he can either be extremely proficient or terribly off target. There’s no middle ground for Freeman.

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That’s one of the main reasons why general manager Mark Dominik hasn’t been in a hurry to ink Freeman to a lengthy contract extension. Dominik told 620 WDAE in Tampa on Jan. 14 that the two sides were taking it very slow as they talked about a new contract.

"No one's in a hurry to push anything through," said Dominik. "There's nothing adversarial about it, it's actually all positive and there's been good communication."

If possibly allowing Freeman to enter the 2013 season, the final year of his rookie contract, without an extension wasn’t enough writing in the wall to tell the quarterback he needed to show improvement, Schiano made it clear that the team was going to make him work for his starts moving forward.

Schiano, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times, plans to bring in competition at quarterback.

Do I think Josh Freeman is going to win Super Bowls in this league? I do. But again, I have to evaluate everything before I can say that's what we're doing. The one thing I do believe in is competition at every spot, including the quarterback.

Freeman is going to enter training camp prior to the 2013 season with no new contract, a possible position battle on his hands and a huge bag of doubt.

After becoming the first Buccaneers’ quarterback in team history to throw for more than 4,000 yards and setting a franchise record with 27 touchdown passes, every move his coaching staff and front office is making foretells that Freeman has fallen out of favor in Tampa Bay.

If Freeman wants to keep his job he needs to somehow clone his 2010 season or find a way to play 16 games like he did the six between Week 6 and Week 11 last season.

Any kind of roller-coaster statistical inconsistency and Freeman might have to look for work elsewhere, or ride the bench in 2014.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of 100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die. Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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