SR’s Fab 5 column on Friday, the Buccaneers do not expect to extend the contract of quarterback Josh Freeman in 2013. That means that Freeman will be playing out his contract year and would be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
Ideally, the Tampa Bay front office was hoping that a strong start by Freeman could have meant a strong finish by the Buccaneers and a surprise playoff berth. That could have jump-started contract extension talks, especially given the fact that through the first 10 games of the 2012 campaign, Freeman had thrown 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions as Tampa Bay compiled a 6-4 record. But during the team’s five-game losing streak, the franchise quarterback threw just five touchdowns and nine interceptions, including back-to-back four-pick games against New Orleans and St. Louis.
That finish, coupled with the fact that the Bucs went 1-5 down the stretch to end up with a 7-9 record, means the team will exert patience when it comes to extending Freeman’s deal. The Bucs want to see how the fourth-year player, who will turn 25 on January 13, wants to see how he performs next season before deciding whether or not to re-sign him and for how much.
“It was an up-and-down year,” Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said. “But 4,000 yards, records all over the place, there are a lot of positives there. Certainly when the expectation level is what we make it, and you don’t reach it, there is also disappointment. Josh is probably his own toughest critic, so I don’t know if anything I am going to tell him is going to shock him.”
Tampa Bay’s front office has seen what has happened in New York with Mark Sanchez and in Buffalo with Ryan Fitzpatrick in terms of giving young quarterbacks rich contract extensions at the first sign of promise. In those instances it has come back to bite those respective franchises.
Following the 2011 season, the Jets rushed things and signed Sanchez to five-year, $58.25 million deal. With New York coming off a horrific 2013 season, Sanchez’s deal is now being labeled as “one of the most ill-conceived contract extensions in NFL history,” according to Gary Myers, the Jets beat writer for the New York Daily News.
Sanchez, who was benched in 2012, is set to make $8.25 million in 2013 and there are rumors that the team is trying to trade the former first-round pick in 2009. Sanchez’s poor performance in 2012 and the team’s decline with a 6-10 record this year already cost general manager Mike Tannenbaum his job. The Jets quarterback completed 54.3 percent of his passes for just 2,883 yards with only 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
In Buffalo, Fitzpatrick was quickly signed to a foolish, six-year, $62-million contract in October of 2011. Heading into 2013, the Bills are looking to dump Fitzpatrick after finishing a disappointing 6-10. Fitzpatrick’s didn’t play that poorly statistically speaking, as he completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,400 yards with 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, but just didn’t make enough plays to win games. That prompted Buffalo to fire head coach Chan Gailey.
Freeman had a record-setting season in which he became the franchise’s all-time leading touchdown passer with 78 scores after throwing a team-record 27 TD passes in 2012. He completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 4,065 yards and became the team’s first-ever 4,000-yard passer. The problem is that Freeman threw 17 interceptions, including three pick-sixes last year.
When asked if Freeman, whom Schiano inherited, was his quarterback going forward, Tampa Bay’s head coach was non-committal.
“I’m not all in with myself yet, so how can I be all in with Josh Freeman or any other player?” Freeman said. “What I can say is a 4,000-yard passer, the touchdown record, there are a lot of things that you can say, ‘Wow!’ Are there things that frustrate you? Yeah, but they frustrate him, too.
“Quite frankly I like Josh Freeman and I want to make sure I don’t get ahead of things here and that I really evaluate every single thing to what is best for this organization. Do I think Josh Freeman is going to win Super Bowls in this league? I do. I hope that it happens here.”
By not extending Freeman’s contract in 2013 the Buccaneers are rolling the dice that Freeman comes out and has a banner year while leading the team to the playoffs. But that’s a gamble the team is willing to take because the team wants him to succeed, and general manager Mark Dominik can always use the franchise tag on Freeman in order to keep him if necessary.
But first, the plan is to give Freeman more competition than current backup Dan Orlovsky offers.
“The one thing I do believe in is competition at every spot, including the quarterback,” Schiano said. “I want to have as many good players on our football team as we can at every single position. It is a little different in the NFL. You can’t have two punters, there’s just not room on your roster. Once you get into the year you can only have one long snapper. But as much competition as we can create throughout the football team rises the level of everything.
“And it’s not that they aren’t mentally tough guys or they aren’t competitors, because they are, but it is human nature. When there is competition the level rises, and that is something Mark Dominik and I will work tirelessly on trying to put the best 90 players when we go to training camp on our roster."
Dominik, Schiano and the Glazers will be exhibiting patience and using all of the time they have, which is the 2013 season, in order to make the right decision for the franchise regarding their franchise quarterback.
Dominik has a great relationship with CAA Sports, the sports agency group that represents Freeman, and Ron Freeman, Josh’s father. There aren’t expected to be any hard feelings between Freeman and the Buccaneers about waiting until the end of 2013 to possibly strike a new deal.