Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can a Change of Scenery Revive Josh Freeman's NFL Career?

Sep 15, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) sets to throw during the second half of the game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Chris TrapassoAnalyst ISeptember 26, 2013

Josh Freeman is looking for a new home.

He may have played his last down in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers, as head coach Greg Schiano benched the veteran quarterback for rookie Mike Glennon heading into Week 4. 

NFL.com's Ian Rapoport tweeted the following about a potential trade:

Can Josh Freeman be traded now? Sure. Bucs are open to it. But won't give their No. 2 QB away. Traded deadline isn't until Oct. 29

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 25, 2013

Rapoport followed his initial report with this statement (h/t NFL.com's Chris Wesseling): "Freeman would like to be traded to a place where he could play."

Though Freeman is in his fifth NFL season, he's only 25 years old—younger than Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford and Colin Kaepernick. Therefore, despite the general inconsistency he's shown with the Buccaneers, it's probably a bit premature to believe he's finished. 

Is a change of scenery what's needed for Freeman to revive his once-promising professional football career? 

 

History In Tampa Bay

Looking back, the atmosphere in Tampa Bay for Freeman wasn't particularly conducive to success. As a rookie selected No. 17 overall in 2009, he spent the entire offseason learning Jeff Jagodzinski's offensive system. 

December 11, 2011; Jacksonville FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) talks with offensive coordinator Greg Olson during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Jacksonville EverBank Field. The Jaguars won 41-14. Mandatory
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Before the final preseason game, Jagodzinski was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator and replaced by quarterbacks coach Greg Olson. 

While Olson's scheme may not have significantly differed from Jagodzinski's, an offensive coordinator switch less than a month before the regular season is probably not the greatest way to develop a young quarterback. 

Tampa Bay's head coach, Raheem Morriswho coached Kansas State's defense while Freeman was there in 2006named Byron Leftwich the regular-season starter that year. 

After a ghastly 0-3 start, Josh Johnson, a fifth-round pick in 2008 made by a different coaching regime, was given the reins of the offense. 

It wasn't until after the Week 7 bye that Freeman took over the No. 1 job. 

In his first start, his 0-7 club upset the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 08:  Quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on November 8, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

After compiling a 3-6 record as the Buccaneers' starter, Freeman started all 16 games in his second NFL season and went 10-6, but failed to qualify for the playoffs. 

He completed a shade over 61 percent of his passes and threw 25 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Freeman appeared to be settled in as Tampa Bay's franchise quarterback. 

Things didn't go as swimmingly in 2011. Despite a better completion percentage and higher passing-yard total, he tossed 22 interceptions and went 4-11 as the starting signal-callera regression that led to Morris' firing. 

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Head coach Greg Schiano of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers directs his team against the San Diego Chargers during warmups just prior to the start of the game at Raymond James Stadium on November 11, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J.
J. Meric/Getty Images

Schiano was a surprise head coaching hire from Rutgers University and brought in Mike Sullivan as the offensive coordinator. Sullivan spent 2010 and 2011 as the New York Giants' quarterbacks coach. 

In the new Buccaneers offense, Freeman's completion percentage dipped below 55 percent, but he did toss 27 touchdowns to only 17 interceptions and threw for a career-high 4,065 yards. 

Freeman began the 2013 campaign 0-3 and completed only 45.7 percent of his passes. 

 

Fallout 

Working with three different coordinators in five seasons certainly wasn't beneficial to Freeman's maturation process. Every quarterback reacts differently to coaching changes—ask Alex Smith.

It wasn't until the correct pieces were in place around him and Jim Harbaugh's coaching staff took over that Smith started winning consistently in San Francisco

However, Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik can't be faulted for not adding weapons around Freeman. 

November 11, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) celebrates with fans after they beat the San Diego Chargers at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers won 34-24. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Mike Williams has blossomed into an intimidating outside receiver. Vincent Jackson is one of the most physically imposing wideouts in the game and was added during the free-agency period of 2012. 

Running back Doug Martin totaled 1,926 yards from scrimmage last season. 

December 16, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) runs after a catch as Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster (59) and outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) pursue during the first half of a game
USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, while Tampa Bay has accumulated the necessary offensive components to support Freeman, its secondary has struggled mightily. 

In football, everything's interconnected. In this particular case, poor play from the quarterback hurt the defense, but poor play from the defense certainly didn't help the quarterback. 

No team allowed more passing yards per game (297) than the Buccaneers did in 2012. The previous year, Tampa Bay's defensive backfield allowed the fourth-highest QB rating in football (97.2).

 

What's Next?

Though Freeman is quite young relative to his NFL experience, it's safe to assume that, at best, he's not the type of quarterback who can put a flawed team on his back and lead it deep into the playoffs. 

That doesn't mean he's useless. 

In fact, signal-callers capable of overcoming a team's vast defensive deficiencies and not experiencing bumps in the road after offensive coordinator changes don't exactly grow on trees. 

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after throwing an incomplete pass in the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Freeman's accuracy issues are real, and unless he plays in a West Coast offense that features short passes to emphasize yards after the catch, he'll never be a 68 percent completion quarterback. 

However, if Freeman was placed in a situation like Joe Flacco found himself in with the Baltimore Ravens, he could morph into a viable signal-caller.

He's similar in size and stature to Flacco, possesses a similar quarterbacking skill set and is much more athletic when forced out of the pocket.

Flacco's never thrown more than 25 touchdowns or completed more than 63.1 percent of his passes in a single season.

Here's a look at how Flacco and Freeman have compared as passers since 2010:

For clarity's sake, Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) accuracy percentage "accounts for dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ball - factors that hurt the quarterback's completion percentage but don't help show how accurate they are."

With that being said, Flacco's been fortunate enough to play on a team with a tremendous defense.

According to Football Outsiders, only once have the Ravens finished outside the top 10 in yards and points allowed per drive during his tenure as the Ravens' starting quarterback.

That kind of consistent stinginess on defense would be beneficial to any quarterback. 

Freeman's likely done in Tampa Bay regardless of who the head coach is in 2014. However, he possesses the physical makeup to be a very serviceable quarterback and we've seen him play at a high level before. 

Given a new start in a new city with a sound defense as well as a new head coach and offensive coordinator—who'll be given a few years without feeling any pressure of losing their jobs—Freeman would have a good chance to resurrect his NFL career.

 

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