The perplexing, volatile and unforeseen circumstances surrounding quarterback Josh Freeman's 2013 campaign have been unprecedentedly bizarre. The fifth-year quarterback is becoming one of the NFL's youngest journeymen and the most unpredictable headline grabber of the 2013 season.
Since being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Kansas State in 2009, Freeman has established himself as a passing machine with gunslinger tendencies. Much like his fellow 2009 draftee Matthew Stafford, Freeman is a big-bodied quarterback with a long arm who can easily rack up close to 4,000 yards in a season. In 2012, Freeman ranked ninth in the NFL with 558 pass attempts, and fittingly, he ranked ninth among league quarterbacks with 4,065 passing yards.
Freeman wasn't always a pass-happy maniac, however. In 2010, during his sophomore year in the NFL and first season where he debuted as the team's starter, it looked like the Bucs had drafted a gem in Freeman. His 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions made him look like the model of an efficient and accurate NFL quarterback. He led the Bucs to a 10-6 record, and for the first time in a while, something other than the sun shining brightly in Tampa Bay.
The storm clouds rolled in quickly and unexpectedly however, as they so often do. In 2011, Freeman seemed to develop a fondness for playing catch with the other team, tossing 22 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns. He maintained a completion percentage in the low 60s, yet he attempted 551 passes, 77 more than his 474 attempts the previous year.
In 2012, Freeman continued to drift from the efficient nature of passing that had found him so much success during his second year in the league. He tossed 558 passes, and completed only 306 of them, good for a completion percentage of 54.8 percent. The Bucs, who had high hopes going into the 2012 season, finished with a disappointing record of 7-9.
It's wrong to speculate if anything off the field could have led to Freeman's demise as an accurate and efficient passer. Personal issues, no matter the nature of them, are supposed to remain private. After the Bucs' miserable start to the 2013 season, however, it became clear that someone in the Bucs' organization wanted to use potential personal issues of Freeman as a catalyst to get him out of Tampa Bay.
In late September, it was reported in the media that Freeman was in stage one of the NFL's substance abuse program. This information, which is certainly incriminating, is supposed to remain confidential. How this story became public knowledge is still a mystery, yet the evidence is certainly making a very high-ranking employee of the Bucs look quite suspicious.
The personalities of Bucs' head coach Greg Schiano and Freeman are clearly dichotomous with one another. Schiano is a fiery competitor who is known for running a tight ship, while Freeman seems to be a quiet and laid-back young man, never wearing too much emotion on his sleeve. Schiano's intensity was met with criticism during his first year as an NFL head coach, when his defense aggressively and unnecessarily stormed through the offensive line of the New York Giants as they took a knee to end the game. Schiano supporters praised the coach for instructing his team to "play until the end," yet any respectable competitor is big enough to concede victory to his opponent after a well-fought battle.
Regardless of your opinion on Schiano's aggressive play calling, the undeniable reality is the Bucs have been the one of the most penalized defenses this year, and for Schiano, who is a proponent of discipline and organization, especially on the defensive side of the ball, this smells trouble and gives his critics fuel for their fire. In the Bucs' week one loss to the New York Jets, it was a late-hit call on quarterback Geno Smith that put the Jets in field goal range to win the game. After losses to the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots, the Bucs were sitting at 0-3 and Freeman was benched. Shortly after, reports surfaced that the team was looking to trade him. Shortly after this, reports surfaced about Freeman being in the drug program.
Thankfully, in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty, so I'm not accusing Schiano of anything unsavory. The reality is, however, someone in the Bucs' organization deliberately tried to slander Freeman, and no one has more incentive to do so than the head coach of an underperforming team, looking to detract attention from the fact that his NFL coaching career is going miserably. Many people feel that there may be a conspiracy here, and currently, the NFLPA is launching an investigation.
Since no one wanted to pay the Bucs to take Freeman off their hands, they released him, and in doing so, paid him a lovely severance package worth approximately $6 million. Freeman was a free man, and he quickly packed his bags for Minnesota, and signed a nice $3 million/one year deal with the Vikings. In the matter of a week, Freeman made over $9 million and signed with a team that will respect him, help him succeed, and as of today, will be starting him at quarterback for their Week 7 Monday Night Football matchup against the New York Giants.
Any way you slice it or dice it, Josh Freeman is a winner, and Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Bucs are losers. Josh Freeman has a starting job and a head coach who cares about him, and Greg Schiano has an 0-5 record and scores of fans calling for his dismissal. If the NFLPA finds that Schiano deliberately leaked confidential info about Freeman, he'll be the laughing stock of the league. The man who is too "competitive" to admit that he lost a game as the opposing team takes a knee might not be above spreading secrets to the media like a high school gossip girl.
Josh Freeman may not succeed in Minnesota and may very well go down as an average NFL quarterback when his career is said and done. He's not the best player to ever grace the football field, but he deserves respect from his employer just like every NFL player does. The 2013 season has been a whirlwind of a season for Freeman; he has faced a bully and a ton of adversity, yet he stayed calm and walked away on top.