COMMENTARY | Concluding several turbulent weeks of speculation on his future with the struggling 0-4 club, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released former starting quarterback Josh Freeman. Though waiting another week may have allowed a potential trade to occur, I believe moving on from the disappointing player as soon as possible was the right call.
Before making the roster move on Thursday, Oct. 3, the Bucs reportedly attempted to deal the 25 year-old. Unable to locate a trading partner, but anxious to vanquish the turmoil that has filled coach Greg Schiano's locker room since the benching followed a week three drubbing, the release means Freeman is a free agent.
Already competing without a contract beyond 2013, Tampa Bay must pay the balance of the fifth-year player's $8.4 million salary, since he is a vested veteran entitled to termination money.
Freeman additionally may negotiate with other teams that can likely land his services for the remainder of the season at a small price.
What Went Wrong?
Such a scenario was difficult for Bucs' fans to envision as recently as this summer, when Schiano reiterated Freeman remained his starting quarterback. Though frequently criticized for inaccuracy and turnovers, the strong-armed thrower indeed became the first player in franchise history to toss for more than 4,000 yards in 2012.
Furthermore, this time last year Freeman was establishing excellent chemistry with new receiver Vincent Jackson, who reached the Pro Bowl and netted nearly 1,400 yards as the club's long-missing down-field weapon.
In fact, the 6'5" Freeman generally performed capably in leading Tampa Bay to triumph in six of the first 10 games of 2012. That is when everything changed. Late season struggles, including a dismal nine interceptions during a five game losing streak, not only doomed playoff chances in Schiano's initial campaign, but planted seeds for finding a replacement.
The front office sent a signal of dissatisfaction by not extending Freeman's contract over the summer. It can be argued this set a tone for failure, as upper echelon quarterbacks rarely enter a campaign without future security. That lack of confidence may have affected Freeman, who was used sparingly in preseason, and began 2013 with worst play of his five year career.
Despite a powerful arm, Freeman too often locked in on Jackson and Mike Williams. Surely Schiano was frustrated by an unwillingness to target other receivers, tight ends, or backfield weapons during the opening three games. Although Freeman long struggled with accuracy, his throws rarely looked more wayward than during the last-minute losses to the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.
Enter Mike Glennon
Selected as the third quarterback of the 2013 draft, 23 year-old Mike Glennon was a surprising 73rd overall pick by Tampa Bay. Perhaps rattling the incumbent's confidence even further, the 6'7" North Carolina State product even reminded many of Freeman, in that he possesses a big body, favors a vertical passing attack, and is limited to running a traditional offense from the pocket.
Though Glennon failed to impress in the preseason, it cannot be argued Freeman did no better during the Bucs' first three games of 2013, when the team was utterly unable to sustain meaningful offense. While Schiano's defense has greatly improved, his offense looks far behind even the limited prowess displayed last year.
In fact, not only is Freeman's 45.7 completion percentage last in the NFL, but the 2009 first round pick only managed 2 touchdowns, while throwing 3 interceptions, and absorbing a crushing 7 sacks. And with a meager 5 scrambles for a combined 20 yards, fans are simply mystified by the big guy's unwillingness to employ the mobility that he indeed possesses.
Despite proclaiming confidence in the embattled quarterback, Schiano quickly back-tracked and benched Freeman for last week's contest against the Arizona Cardinals, which resulted in continued failure, as a miserable fourth quarter ensured the Bucs fell 13-10.
Though I was initially surprised, and still unable to point to significant improvement, I continue to believe this was the correct decision.
Promoting the rookie into the starting position, however, did create greater controversy at One Buc Place. Therefore, Freeman's subsequent release was specifically needed to address that problem.
Off-the-field Issues Follow Freeman
Coming as an even greater revelation, damaging stories recently surfaced concerning an array of off-the-field troubles for Freeman. These include reports of sleeping through a team photo, receiving a pair of fines, entering the NFL's substance-abuse program, and efforts to banish the quarterback from the sidelines during Sunday's game.
Such news is not only harmful to Freeman, but the attention does nothing good for a team seeking its first victory of 2013. If the release of the benched quarterback halts (or even limits) such destructive speculation, the decision is unquestionably wise. After all, there was little chance of reinsertion as Tampa Bay's signal caller, and no club desired a trade to acquire his services.
Yet, with several searching for a veteran quarterback, I concede the move offers potential to backfire. Though Glennon showcased some skill in his debut performance, the rookie was defeated behind turnovers and inability to generate second-half offense.
Those were the very flaws for which Freeman was maligned. If Glennon does not mature quickly, and his former mentor proceeds to thrive with a new club, the Schiano era will undoubtedly conclude very soon.
Benefit of Outright Release is Worth the Risk
Though previously a longtime supporter, my opinion evolved due to consistently poor performances by Freeman during the past year. Though Schiano's own outlook remains nearly as pessimistic, moving on from the underachiever was likely his only move.
While the Bucs failed to reach heights imagined when Freeman was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, blame for that failure cannot fall exclusively on him. Despite flashes of talent, Freeman never received adequate support. Such inconsistency, from both players and coaches alike, simply doomed any chance for success and necessitated starting over. Regardless of fault, the damage has been done here in Tampa Bay.
This may ultimately require a brand new quarterback -- and coach -- in 2014.
Yet, in the middle of the team's bye week, perhaps the greatest benefit of the decision is an opportunity to stop the media circus, and allow focus to return to winning games behind an improved defense.
If such victories do not occur, additional changes will undoubtedly come. But, for now, Mike Glennon should feel comfortable as Tampa Bay's unquestioned starting quarterback and that may provide a better chance to win.
To put it another way, Bucs' fans must hope Glennon becomes this year's Russell Wilson, just as he literally did when previously replacing that very incumbent at North Carolina State.
Much like Wilson, who departed for the University of Wisconsin, I doubt the NFL has heard the last of Josh Freeman in 2013.
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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