Only a few short years ago, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that quarterback Josh Freeman would become the face and future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Back in 2010, Freeman passed for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns, only six interceptions and helped lead the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record. While Tampa Bay fell just short of the postseason that year, the future for Freeman and the franchise appeared bright.
Over the next two seasons, however, the Buccaneers only managed to produce an 11-21 record, underwent a regime change, and watched as Freeman lost his position as the perceived franchise quarterback.
The Buccaneers dropped five of their last six games to close the 2012 season, and lost a very winnable contest against the New York Jets in Week 1 this year.
Not only has Freeman regressed as a signal-caller since the 2010 season (his passer rating dropped from 95.9 to 74.6 in 2011 and 81.6 in 2012), but his status as a team leader has been seriously called into question.
Freeman, 25, was not named a team captain for 2013—a move that his peers in the locker room may have made, in part, because of his absence for the team photo last week. Even worse, Freeman appears to have lost the support of head coach Greg Schiano, who called Freeman's leadership into question when speaking with the media earlier this week.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, some close to the situation believe that Schiano even rigged the team vote against Freeman's favor due to a "growing disconnect" and "some serious tension" between coach and quarterback.
The Buccaneers clearly do not have a lot of faith in Freeman's ability to be the team's long-term solution under center, or the former Kansas State standout would have been offered a contact extension before the final season of his rookie deal.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the relationship between Schiano and Freeman is already beyond repair, and Freeman is likely to request a trade before next month's deadline.
The question is, what can the Buccaneers expect in return if they do indeed decide to deal?
Tampa Bay is not likely to receive the type of compensation that the Bengals did when they dealt Carson Palmer to the Raiders back in 2011. However, there is always a market for QBs, and Freeman should be a more enticing option than other potentially available quarterbacks (like Oakland’s Matt Flynn or free agent Tim Tebow).
There are multiple teams who are currently unsettled at the quarterback position. The New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders are just three teams who are struggling to field a clear-cut starter.
Other teams—like the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings—have a quarterback to whom the franchises appear committed, but they could easily become interested should an experienced veteran like Freeman become available.
In fact, a team like the Vikings makes a lot of sense for Freeman. While the Vikings did qualify for the postseason last year, Christian Ponder was/is anything but a rock under center. Ponder did manage to complete 62.1 percent of his passes in 2012, but he did so for only 2,935 yards with an average of 6.1 yards per attempt.
With running back Adrian Peterson leading the way, the Vikings have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs again this year. However, a strong-armed, experienced quarterback like Freeman could bring some much-needed balance to the Minnesota offense, and make the Vikings an even bigger threat in the wide open NFC North.
While Freeman was often inconsistent last season, he did manage to throw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns with a respectable average of 7.3 yards per attempt.
These numbers make Freeman an enticing option for any team with positional uncertainty. Any team trading for Freeman, however, would of course have to sign him to a long-term extension in order for the deal to make sense.
What Would Be the Asking Price?
Realistically, the Buccaneers could likely expect a second- or third-round pick in exchange. Consider that the Cardinals gave up a second-rounder (along with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) for Eagles backup Kevin Kolb back in 2011.
At the time, Kolb had only started seven games for Philadelphia. Including this week, Freeman has already started 58 games at the NFL level.
The Buccaneers do have a viable stop-gap option in rookie Mike Glennon, who appears capable of at least holding down the position until season's end. If the Buccaneers do decide to target a quarterback—such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, or Clemson’s Tajh Boyd—in the 2014 draft, an extra high-round pick may enable Tampa Bay to move up in the first round for a more coveted prospect
At this point, it appears in the best interest of both Freeman and the Buccaneers organization to part ways. If the compensation is right (and there is every reason to believe that it should be), expect Tampa Bay to pull the trigger before things truly get out of hand and Josh Freeman's last season with the team completely falls apart.