Freeman reportedly showed up late and didn't participate in the team photo last week, according to Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune, and subsequently was not voted to be a team captain by his teammates for the first time in four years.
UPDATE: Thursday, Sept. 12, at 2:11 p.m. ET
From the Pewter Report:
Schiano said that he does trust Josh Freeman.— Pewter Report (@PewterReport) September 12, 2013
Schiano said he and Freeman are very close and talk all the time. He said he's sure Freeman's mind is on his contract, but preparing well.— Pewter Report (@PewterReport) September 12, 2013
Schiano said that missing the team picture hasn't affected his preparation and play on the field.— Pewter Report (@PewterReport) September 12, 2013
Schiano said I was aware of a players-only meeting and had no problem with it. No knowledge of questioning the captains vote.— Pewter Report (@PewterReport) September 12, 2013
Schiano said Freeman overslept and missed the team photo last week. I dealt with that internally and we moved on.— Pewter Report (@PewterReport) September 12, 2013
---End of update---
But the plot thickens.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Bucs players then had a players-only meeting prior to the Week 1 loss to the New York Jets. One reported piece of business on the agenda was determining if the vote that eliminated Freeman from the captaincy was indeed legitimate.
Though the original PFT report made no mention of Greg Schiano potentially rigging the vote, that speculation nonetheless made the rounds and prompted a response from the head coach.
Schiano insisted he did not alter the results of the vote, which left receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Davin Joseph as offensive captains.
"The players vote. The votes are tabulated by me," Schiano told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.
And Freeman wasn't voted a captain by the players?
"That's what I said, yes," Schiano said. "I know there's a story out there. It's 100 percent false. If there was such a thing as 102 percent, this would be it."
Got all that?
No matter what the actual story is, none of this is good news for the Buccaneers. If Freeman's teammates decided he no longer deserved to be a captain, it essentially means they no longer fully trust in his ability to lead.
If there was something more nefarious at play, it could mean that either the coach or front office is preparing to distance themselves from their starting quarterback.
Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports makes note of how rare this ousting is:
Once a player is a captain, he generally remains a captain, unless something unusual happens. That's especially true at quarterback. No quarterback is going to be voted out as a captain, and certainly not for a receiver in his second year with the team. Except in Tampa Bay.
There were already questions coming into this season about the long-term future of Freeman as the starting quarterback for the Bucs, especially after the team used a third-round pick on quarterback Mike Glennon.
Freeman was shaky in Week 1, finishing 15-of-31 for 210 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He did enough to put the Bucs in position to win, though the Jets were able to steal a victory with a game-winning field goal after Lavonte David's incomprehensible late hit on Geno Smith.
Add in the fact that he's lost his captaincy, and it's easy to see the already thin ice melting under Freeman's feet.
And perhaps under the feet of the team and Schiano as a whole.
Given that a players meeting was held in regard to the vote could mean there's a growing distrust between the players and coaching staff. Such a disconnect was backed up by Shaun King and Ross Tucker, who both spoke to Pro Football Talk about "disarray" in the locker room, as Mike Florio reported.
King was quoted as saying:
It speaks to a deeper issue. There’s a lot of disarray in Tampa. One of the points being that some of the players felt like there was an unfair counting of the captain vote, feeling like Josh Freeman should have remained a captain....Greg Schiano is a micromanager, and it’s starting to wear thin with some of their veteran players.
It's not looking good in Tampa Bay, is it?