It didn't start out this way. Most NFL analysts considered the 2013 season to be a make-or-break year for the inconsistent quarterback, but head coach Greg Schiano likely had a much shorter leash in mind. One game into the season, the QB situation is rapidly approaching a fever pitch -- or, as Tampa Tribune writer Ira Freeman called it, a "critical mass."
The Buccaneers are 0-1. Half of the teams in the league are tied with the same losing record, so it's hardly cause for major concern for most franchises. The Bucs lost to the lowly Jets, however, a team often ridiculed in the media for its own circus at quarterback, the supposed lame duck standing of coach Rex Ryan and a general lack of perceived talent. It was a must-win for a Bucs roster that will fight for every win it gets in 2013.
As for Freeman's performance in the Week 1 loss, it was as frustrating as any in the quarterback's up-and-down career. The final line wasn't pretty: 15 completions in 31 attempts for a dismal 48.4 completion percentage. He threw for one touchdown and one interception and took three sacks. Last Sunday's loss, in other words, sits largely upon Freeman's shoulders.
A well-known risk
Unfortunately for Freeman, it was only one game of several games with such results. In 57 career starts, 15 of them featured worse performances than Sunday's inaccurate display -- at least according to passer rating. Freeman's had six games with three touchdown passes or more, but he's also had eight games of three interceptions or more. The arm is there. The talent is there. But the consistency is not ... even after four full NFL seasons.
As a freshman at Kansas State, Freeman led the Big 12 in interceptions with 15. Freeman threw for 478 yards and three touchdowns Against No. 5 Oklahoma the next season, carrying the Wildcats' offense on his shoulders. He also made several bad decisions, though, and threw three interceptions in the same game. Any NFL team willing to make the investment in drafting Freeman had to have a development plan in place.
SB Nation's own Dan Kadar mentioned the variables in place in his scouting report of Freeman heading into the draft:
Freeman is an incredibly intriguing prospect. He has a powerful arm and good touch. However, he is very mechanically flawed and will need a patient quarterbacks coach. Threw 34 interceptions in 35 career games, which is troublesome. Still, some team will fall in love with his physical tools. At times his play is reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger, but he's been too inconsistent to chance a first-round pick on.
In the end, the Buccaneers moved up to take Freeman at No. 17 overall rather than risk waiting for him with their next pick at No. 81. They've been riding the roller coaster ever since.
Exiting the ride
The team made a solid investment in the offseason in quarterback Mike Glennon, a third-round pick out of N.C. State. The move turned a mildly-frustrating position on the depth chart into one that could boil over and turn the reins of a team with significant investments at other positions to a rookie quarterback. Yet, even after the NFL Draft, the offense was still in Freeman's hands.
Somehow all of that changed in the last couple of weeks. First, Freeman was stripped of his role as team captain after three years. Then came the news that Freeman missed the team photo because he overslept. Greg Schiano's comments on the matter only drew more attention to an already awkward situation, and the Buccaneers have now passed the tipping point. Now there's so much smoke that change has to happen.
Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation writes that Tampa Bay is now in circus-like territory:
We are the New New York Jets. Complete with quarterback controversy, rumors of player mutiny, ridiculous handling of simple issues, losses to terrible opponents and a pretty good defense.
Such chaos tends to go away with a win or two, as a team's position in the standings holds the final say. Perhaps Freeman can right the ship in the coming weeks and silence any rumors of the end of his tenure in TB. Given the upcoming competition against the Saints and Patriots in Weeks 2 and 3, however, it's likely that Freeman is done sooner than later.
This risk, it seems, was not one worth taking.