COMMENTARY | Following his release last week by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, free agent quarterback Josh Freeman signed a one year contract to finish 2013 with the Minnesota Vikings. While the Bucs proceed cautiously with rookie Mike Glennon under center, supporters can be grateful that the media circus surrounding the former starter's fall from grace has mercifully concluded.
Reportedly drawing interest from numerous clubs, Freeman selected a last place team that already possesses a pair of experienced quarterbacks in Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. Required to receive in full his $8.4 million salary from Tampa Bay, the 25 year-old surprisingly received an additional $3 million from Minnesota, as he attempts to rebuild an interrupted career, following five years with the Bucs.
Coming off a bye week, and a prior rib injury to Ponder, Vikings' fans likely hope the new arrival will prove key to improving a frustrating season. After all, the Metrodome was the scene of two of Freeman's top victories for Tampa Bay, including a dramatic 24-20 fourth quarter comeback in 2011 and an emphatic 36-17 prime-time triumph in 2012.
Yet, with an 0-4 record and the NFL's second-worst offense, there are ample reasons such a negative scenario played out for the lowly Bucs. A former first-round pick, who started 60 of his team's past 62 games, is rarely given an outright release during the middle of the season. Indeed, strong doubts cloud Freeman's outlook and Tampa Bay supporters are in prime position to explain why the move will not work.
Here are five reasons Josh Freeman will not succeed with the 2013 Minnesota Vikings.
Vikings Already Have Same Player in Matt Cassel:
Though Cassel is six years older, the career numbers of the two quarterbacks are frighteningly similar, as they battle to determine who is first in line to take Ponder's starting job. In 63 career starts, the 31 year-old Cassel has thrown 84 touchdowns, 57 interceptions, and 13,743 yards. On the ground, he is capable, but has never overwhelmed with a total 861 rushing yards, a mere 4 touchdowns, and an alarmingly high 43 fumbles. In his career 60 starts, the 25 year-old Freeman has tossed 80 touchdowns, 66 interceptions, and 13,534 yards. The pocket-passer further posted 922 career rushing yards, just 4 touchdowns on the ground, and a hefty 36 fumbles.
Most significantly, both signal-callers have serious issues with accuracy, as Cassel's career 58.9 completion percentage barely exceeds Freeman's miserable 58.2 percent. Nothing doomed Freeman in Tampa Bay more than his inaccuracy and it is a big part of why the Kansas State product has the NFL's second-worst QB rating in 2013. While Cassel is a bit older, the first year Viking did spend three seasons stuck behind Tom Brady. So the experience and wear-and-tear factors are also relatively even, since Freeman was thrown into the fire in Tampa as a rookie.
One First Round Bust Takes Baton From Another:
How appropriate Freeman's arrival signifies Minnesota missed on its 2011 first rounder just as badly as Tampa Bay did in 2009. Both Ponder and Freeman were moderately surprising picks, who were selected higher than many experts expected. Impressing with all-around athleticism, each quarterback shook off a sluggish rookie season by proceeding to lead young clubs to 10 win seasons in only their second NFL campaigns. For Freeman, those 10 victories were insufficient for a Bucs' playoff spot in 2010, but Ponder did guide the Vikes to the post-season with a successful sophomore effort in 2012.
While Greg Schiano was widely criticized for giving up on Freeman too soon, enthused Minnesota fans should remember Ponder's playoff appearance occurred last year. Though the running attack rightfully received primary credit for that success, and Ponder has failed to impress in three losses to begin 2013, a potential replacement at quarterback would make Tampa Bay's patience look positively impressive. While Ponder may not have developed at the rate hoped, NFL clubs rarely fix first round miscues with other team's mistakes.
Even With Adrian Peterson, Freeman Not Ideal Game Manager:
Surely the ability to play with football's best running back factored significantly into Freeman's decision to sign with Minnesota. Behind 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2012, the 28 year-old indeed enjoyed one of the top seasons out of the backfield in NFL history. However, through four games of the 2013 campaign, Peterson's 421 yards and 4.6 yards per carry average are considerably more routine numbers. Though impressive, Peterson has failed to compete at last year's lofty level. Furthermore, those numbers are otherwise consistent with the majority of his seven year career.
If the elite rusher is to remain the center of the Vikings' offense, the ideal quarterback would be a game manager, marked by an ability to avoid mistakes and to take advantage of what the defense enables. Such a patient description has never fitted the gun-slinging Freeman, who is known to force throws, fail to nurture diverse weapons, and poorly protect the ball. In fact, the former Bucs' quarterback benefited from a similar relationship with the dynamic Doug Martin, but was unable to balance properly a stellar running attack with conservative, but steady passing.
Freeman Does Not Play Defense:
If I were running the Vikings' organization, and enjoyed the unusual ability to devote considerable resources for improving an underachieving squad after four games, I would spend every dime to bolster a sub-par defense. Already possessing a pair of serviceable quarterbacks, one can argue Freeman primarily adds depth to the position. In contrast, the team's defensive unit needs to be aided by far more than a mere second or third string addition. Surrendering 30.8 points per game, the Vikings are already allowing nearly 9 more points per contest in 2013.
This very weakness has most contributed to a disappointing 1-3 record, especially when the club's offense is averaging nearly 6 points more than 2012s, even with diminished results from quarterback and running back. During last week's victory in London over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the squad enabled the NFL's fourth-worst offense to post 27 points, and a porous secondary helped the struggling Ben Roethlisberger hurl for 383 yards. Freeman will not benefit these deficiencies, particularly not as long as he occupies the same back-up position in Minnesota that he refused to accept in Tampa Bay.
Schedule and Division Do Team No Favors:
Playing in the NFC North, the road back to the post-season will not be easy for the Vikings. While the Green Bay Packers are perennially an NFL powerhouse, the 3-2 Detroit Lions and 3-2 Chicago Bears both look like contenders after five weeks. Furthermore, every other NFC North club possesses a quality offense, led by proven quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford. If Minnesota cannot rapidly improve on defense, it will have a monumental task to overcome a sluggish start. Asking Freeman to provide the missing solution is truly an act of desperation, since this very quarterback only produced 27 total offensive points in three full games of the 2013 season.
The schedule further provides little hope, as only three of the remaining 12 contests occur against opponents with sub .500 records a year ago. Freeman might have chosen to compete in Minnesota because he prefers the temperature-controlled Metrodome. However, if the 25 year-old becomes the Vikings' starting quarterback, he will likely deal with arduous road games against the Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati Bengals. Bucs' fans can attest that asking Freeman to earn signature victories during these kind of challenges will, at best, provide heartbreak and, at worst, produce genuine embarrassment.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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- American Football
- Josh Freeman
- Minnesota Vikings
- Christian Ponder
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Matt Cassel