Entering a contract year on a team with playoff aspirations, Freeman deserves the public backing. The new-look Buccaneers can't get where they want to go without it.
Speaking on NFL Network's Total Access, Schiano made it very clear that Freeman—and not third-round pick Mike Glennon—will be his starting quarterback next season (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com):
I believe in competition, and Mike Glennon is going to be a tremendous quarterback in his time. But we have a quarterback, it's Josh Freeman. He had a really good spring. I think it's really coming together, being in this system for a second year now and hearing the things over again after being able to study it, I'm really encouraged.
After back-to-back shaky seasons, Freeman will now enter 2013 on the last year of his rookie contract. Previously this offseason, Schiano had done little to calm any speculation that Freeman's job was in jeopardy in 2013.
Glennon was drafted in the third round of April's draft, and Schiano has—at times—appeared to embrace the looming competition between the two quarterbacks.
"Our situation will be only if he’s [Glennon] needed,” Schiano told Dan Pompei of the National Football Post. “Or if he wins the job. Look, I’m not against that."
The second-year head coach even admitted to Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times that the idea of Glennon overtaking Freeman as the starter this season has been mostly created by his own doing.
After Schiano's most recent comments, however, any lingering doubt about Freeman's place as the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers should be eliminated. Such a situation is a good thing for Tampa Bay's chances at turning an impressive offseason into win-loss results in 2013.
With improvements to the roster happening all around him, Freeman and his consistency at the quarterback position might be the only factor separating Tampa Bay from a return to the postseason. Schiano's public confidence, plus personnel help this offseason, should aid the return of Freeman's consistency.
The changes start on the defensive side of the football.
In free agency, Tampa Bay inked All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson from the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis was acquired before the NFL draft, where the Bucs later spent a second-round pick on Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.
Once a staggering weakness, the Tampa Bay secondary should begin next season as arguably the most improved position group in the NFL.
Goldson is an instinctive roamer of the deep half, Revis is the best cover cornerback in football when healthy and Banks figures to compete for playing time as the starter opposite Revis or the nickelback. Also returning is 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron.
The additions to the secondary should help the defense stay off the field and the Bucs from consistently playing from behind.
Far too often in 2012, Freeman was forced to throw at volume to either keep Tampa Bay in games or rally from behind. The results were over 4,000 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and 7.3 yards per attempt, but also a 54.8 completion percentage, 17 interceptions and an 81.6 passer rating.
During a five-game losing streak from Week 12 to 16 that all but doomed their season, the Bucs defense allowed 29.4 points a game. Over that same stretch, Freeman attempted over 40 passes a game and threw nine of his 17 picks.
Compare Freeman's season numbers with Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions quarterback who was also put into rally mode for most of 2012, and you see obvious parallels: Stafford threw 17 interceptions, completed 59.8 percent of his passes and finished with a passer rating under 80.0. Yet there's little talk in Detroit about the job security of Stafford ahead of 2013.
With better defensive personnel in place next season, the Bucs can go back to relying on running back Doug Martin and the play-action passing game.
In 2010, or Freeman's best statistical season, Tampa Bay threw the football 494 times while attempting 434 runs. Freeman finished with 25 touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating over 95.0.
Last season, that ratio turned into 566 passes and just 416 rushing attempts. Such splits can be directly tied to a poor defense and an offense forced to play catch-up. The additions of Goldson, Revis and Banks should help the Bucs re-discover the offensive balance that helped springboard Freeman's impressive 2010 campaign.
When Tampa Bay was at its best last season, Martin was carrying a heavy load and Freeman was picking his spots as a play-action passer.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Freeman had a 98.0 passer rating in play-action situations and a 76.5 passer rating on all other drop backs. His 23.4-point gap between the two ratings was the seventh-highest among starting quarterbacks last season.
From Week 6 to 11, in which the Bucs went 5-1, Freeman attempted just 33 passes a game. Martin averaged 21 carries during the span, his highest over any six-game stretch last season, while Tampa Bay averaged over 34 points a game.
Under Freeman, the Bucs may never be an offense capable of slinging the football 40-50 times a game while playing winning football. But new additions on defense should ensure that Tampa Bay has no need to deviate from a run-based, play-action offense.
Now, it appears the 2013 season in Tampa Bay will feature one of two likely paths.
Either the Bucs will improve by leaps and bounds on defense and allow the offense to regain some balance, or the two factors will continue deteriorating and Freeman's regression will pave the way for his exit.
Schiano and the Bucs have prepared for both scenarios. If Freeman recovers and the Bucs compete for the postseason, the team can deal with giving their quarterback a deserved contract extension. If not, Freeman can walk and the team will move on with Glennon under center.
Without knowing the future, Schiano has completed the only move he could realistically make. By remaking the defense and putting his full confidence in Freeman, Schiano has allowed the best chance for the positive scenario to unfold in 2013.