Josh Freeman Is Best Long-Term QB Option Remaining in 2014 NFL Free Agency

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 16, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 21:  Quarterback Josh Freeman
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TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 15: Quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers directs play against the New Orleans Saints September 15, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Saints won 16 - 14. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Free-agent quarterback Josh Freeman has had one of the most puzzling regressions in recent years. From surefire franchise signal-caller to one of the most inconsistent—and at times, downright terrible—players at his position in the NFL, it's difficult to know what to expect out of Freeman in the future.

But for desperate teams in the market for a potential starting QB who could serve as a stopgap starter and still has developmental upside, there's no one on the 2014 open market better than Freeman.

When he guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 10-win season in 2010, it appeared Freeman was the undoubted future face of the Bucs organization. The young man threw 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions, passed for 3,451 yards and led five fourth-quarter comebacks in that year alone.

Although Tampa Bay missed the playoffs, it appeared the team was in an excellent place to thrive, especially in starting the subsequent campaign 4-2. Then came an unforeseen collapse, where Freeman's play slipped and the entire club caved in to a 10-game losing streak the rest of the way.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Suddenly doubts lingered about Freeman, and it didn't help that dictatorial head coach Greg Schiano came in as the prospective solution to the problem. Schiano and Freeman feuded in their second season together after the QB came off a 4,000-yard inaugural season under his new boss.

General manager Mark Dominik also selected Mike Glennon in the third round of last year's draft. Those factors and Freeman's poor play in the first four games of 2013 all culminated in a trade to the Minnesota Vikings.

With almost zero time to prepare or get used to his new teammates—this was also the first time he changed teams in his career—Freeman faltered in his lone start. In a 23-7 loss to the New York Giants, he completed just 20 of 53 passes for 190 yards and an interception.

The bizarre game plan saw Minnesota hand it to Adrian Peterson just 13 times on top of all the throwing Freeman did. It was not an ideal situation, to say the least, for Freeman to show he could be the long-term answer for the Vikings.

Minnesota teammates ripped Freeman for his behavior, and one implied that he didn't know the offense, per a Dec. 31 report by USA Today's Tom Pelissero:

You could tell Josh did not know the offense. Practices did not really go that well that week. But Coach Frazier was in the team meetings like, "Oh, I think this is the best week of practice we've had all year." And everyone's like, "what? What are you talking about?"

Freeman is now on the open market, with a reputation for a lackluster work ethic and some ugly game tape in his limited action last season.

However, he was beset with some demoralizing circumstances, and after being the No. 17 overall pick in the 2009 draft, he was essentially abandoned. The team that drafted him no longer had faith in him, and Freeman didn't handle it well.

A fresh start, with a training camp to acclimate to his new environment, could be just what Freeman needs to get off the skids. The Oakland Raiders have been linked to Freeman, and NFL Network's Albert Breer reports that the QB is at the top of their list, barring the release of Houston Texans veteran Matt Schaub:

Freeman has shown too many flashes of brilliance and has produced too well to be discounted as an abject failure and unworthy of even the most modest of short-term, free-agent investments.

All those clutch comebacks in Tampa Bay, the eye-popping arm talent and the fact that he turned just 26 in January make Freeman a marketable commodity.

As for the other QBs in free agency, Schaub may never become one, and the other top youngster might be Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets, if he gets his expected release. Although Sanchez has won four playoff games, he has never played near the level Freeman has at his apex.

Then there's Michael Vick, an exciting, dynamic athlete but a player on the back end of his career and with a penchant for turning the ball over.

The 6'6", 240-pound Freeman has solid mobility and the biggest frame of anyone and is the only one among those other three peers who doesn't have a history of injuries.

It's hard to imagine how much worse Freeman is capable of playing than he did in 2013. If he is indeed franchise material, this has to be rock bottom for him, as he's scrounging for a job after it looked as though he'd live up to and even exceed the hype that comes with being a former first-round pick.

There is no shortage of incentive for Freeman to work his tail off, get back to playing at a high level and make the most of his next opportunity—because it could be his last. Freeman's free fall would then become a cautionary tale about complacency and unwillingness to persevere, and would cement his status as a sudden bust following a fallacious ascent to NFL stardom.