The follow Q&A with Bucs head coach Raheem Morris took place shortly after Tampa Bay traded up with Cleveland in the first round to select Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman with the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Opening statement. "I'm really excited. We got our guy. We had a target on him. A lot of you guys had him targeted as well. We got a chance to get a guy who I've had a unique relationship with. A potential franchise guy. We are really excited in the building."
You have a lot of needs on defense, yet you take a quarterback? "No question any time you get a chance to get a franchise quarterback on your football team, a guy that creates excitement, a guy with a big arm, a guy that is accurate, a guy that has talent. He's 6-5, 250-pounds. Can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball, be the guy of the future, you go get him. He addresses all your needs for you. Peyton Manning for example, they had needs on defense when they drafted him as well, and they filled them, and it helped them out in the long run. They've had a long time of winning, and that is what we want to do around here for awhile."
Would you say he is a franchise quarterback? "You never say whether a guy is going to be a franchise quarterback. He'll tell you. He'll let you know. He'll come in here and develop. He'll get going and compete to be the very best. Once he's the very best he'll let you know."
What do you do with all your quarterbacks? "We're going to take four quarterbacks to camp. We have five on the roster right now, we'll let them compete and we don't have to make that decision until we go to training camp. We are really excited about that. Once we get a chance to go to training camp and evaluate these guys, we'll make that decision then." You had to be sold on taking a quarterback. What was the tipping point to take a quarterback? "You know whenever you get a chance to take a franchise guy, a guy that you know, a guy that you trust in and believe in, a guy that you think can take you to the next level you go get him. Those other needs, we'll address those needs. We're pretty good, we're pretty strong on defense. Those needs are what they are. We all know what they are. We got another day at the draft and a couple more picks in the second round. We're excited, not us though."
What did you say to convince [general manager] Mark Dominik to take Freeman? "I wouldn't call it convincing. I would call it we got together and worked on a plan, dealing with what we needed to deal with. Him asking the questions he needed to get answered by me. Me asking the questions that needed to get answered by him. Dennis Hickey, Doug Williams, we involved everybody. We did everything together. We want make decisions together. We want to have fun together, and we want to win together."
What did you see in Josh during your year together? "I was lucky enough to be there when he came in as a freshman. I watched him lead us, and beat teams with him. We didn't have a whole lot of talent around him. Every time he walked on to the field we had a chance to win. No matter who we played that week, whether it was Texas or it was FIU. It didn't matter. We felt like we had a chance to win with this guy leading. We didn't always do it. He didn't lead us to as many wins as he would have liked to. Hopefully he can do that here. I'm positive and excited that he will do that here."
How much of this was about a long-term decision to find stability at quarterback? "When you draft a quarterback in the first round you are making a pretty bold decision. He is the long-term decision. He is the direction we are going. We got big kid here man with a positive attitude that all you guys are going to love."
What is the plan for getting him in the lineup? "I don't want to hold him back, and I don't want to rush him in. We are going to get him in here, and let him practice. We are going to let him be around guys like Luke [McCown], Byron [Leftwich], Josh [Johnson], and [Brian] Griese. These guys are professionals. They've been around the block for a long time. He'll learn things from them, as he's getting ready. If we run into a situation like they had in San Diego a couple years ago, great for us. We are all pretty happy in this room."
Does this add more pressure for you to get this pick right? "There is a lot of pressure with my job period. I've been put in a position to make decisions and that is what I'm going to do. We made big decision today."
Why trade up two spots with Cleveland? "We knew people had interest. People knew about my unique relationship with Josh. You get a little nervous, you don't want people to jump you, and so you move up to get your guy."
Were you worried about a team trading up to get Freeman? "There were plenty of teams we were worried about [trading up for Freeman]. I don't want to throw anybody under the bus because they have all drafted their new players. We were worried about everybody jumping in front of us to take a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback that is accurate all over the field."
More from Morris on Freeman. "That's the quarterback, and we all know that in this league you can't win without a quarterback."
One of the knocks on Freeman was his decision-making process. How can you correct that? "Those things you can correct. The things you can't correct are arm strength, accuracy, presence and feel. Everything else you put on tape that you don't like about him is correctable. The stuff he put on tape that you love about him is special."
Can Freeman start as a rookie? "I'm creating a competitive attitude and competitive environment. I've got some quarterbacks on this roster that are pretty talented and can play. This guy coming in is the franchise guy and the long-term answer. No doubt about it. If he forces his will on the opponent and becomes the best quarterback there is a chance you will see him play."
You worked with Freeman at Kansas State when he was a freshman. How much has he grown since then? "I went to Kansas State and met a 6-foot-5 freshman that threw the ball all over the field and impressed me. I got a chance to come back here watch his tape and what he's done over the last two years since I left. I was impressed, and everybody watching the tape was impressed when you see him throw and see him spin. We had a guy we targeted, we liked him and we went and got him."
More from Morris on Freeman at Kansas State. "You have a chance to see him as a freshman, you give him a nickname and you develop that nickname with him, you see him there grinding away, you see him there working everyday, you're on the field with him, talking about the NFL with him. He is always asking questions. We compared him to Brett Favre because he' was being coached by James Franklin, who had coached Favre the year before. He wanted to know all those things. He poor, hungry and desperate. We went out and gave it to him."
What was his nickname at K-State? "I'm not telling you. I'm not giving you the nickname. You might hear it in practice."
Is defensive coordinator Jim Bates an unhappy person? "Jim Bates is fired up upstairs. We're talking about a quarterback. We're a team. We make all decisions together. He had a chance to evaluate the tape and kid. We're all fired up."
Freeman felt he was better than the two quarterbacks taken ahead of him? How do you feel about Freeman compared to those two quarterbacks? "He's my guy. I went and got him. The other guys are good players, too. But he's my guy."
Is Freeman better than Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez? "I think so. I'm fired up about him. You guys will be, too."
What does Freeman have to work on to be successful? "When you come in as a quarterback you have to work on everything. You have to learn how to run the huddle and run your team. You've got to be the guy everyone leans on. There's a lot of things thrown his way. He's already been schooled up pretty well. I know a couple of his coaches, and they are good. You bring him in to meet people and they're always walking away saying, ‘Wow, that guy is pretty talented. Or, he was more impressive than I thought. Wow, I'm impressed.' He did that in this building."
Were you telling [general manager] Mark Dominik to trade up and get Freeman? "I wasn't telling them anything. We work together. Mark and I made the pick. We embraced and hugged."
Is there a danger in having too much information on a player by being too close to him? "I am married to him. There is always a danger of having too much information on a guy. There is no question about it and I recognize that. Early in the process I tried to stay back away from it a little bit. You don't push a guy. You don't sell a guy. You don't even give your opinion of the guy because you don't want to sway people's opinion in the building. You just want to give him the chance to be around people. So you bring him in on a pre-draft visit. You meet with him at the Combine. You let your coaches evaluate the tape. You talk to them later. You get their opinions. You let them tell you what you believe. Then you say what you believe and you get it all in the same circle. You get it all in the same hat and you pull out the solution. He was the solution."
Have you maintained a relationship with Freeman since you left K-State after the 2006 season? "Whenever you know a guy and you feel like you've bonded with a guy, he's called me throughout the whole process at K-State. Whether it was to say, ‘Hey, a good game by the DBs this week' or whether to say, ‘We played well this week' or ‘Man, why did you leave me?' Every time I called [former Kansas State offensive coordinator James] Franklin [Josh] was in his office. So I got another opportunity to talk to him. It's been a relationship with him since I left – a lot of those kids at K-State."
How did offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski describe how he would develop Freeman considering he developed former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, who was Atlanta's top pick last year? "You're giving him a lot of credit. Matt Ryan is a good player that Jags helped develop. I know what Jags is going to do here. He's going to give him an opportunity to be the best player he can be. We're excited about having an opportunity to have Greg Olson, Jags, Pete Mangurian, Richard Mann and Rich Bisaccia – he's going to get coached by some really good coaches and I'm really excited about that."
How does Freeman fit the Bucs' offensive system? "Your system better fit your franchise quarterback. This is a great fit."
You are obviously excited about drafting Freeman. Is there anyone else that would have gotten you this excited? "Is there anyone else? There are a lot of pretty good players in this draft. I would have been pretty jazzed about a couple other players," Morris said. "There are players that you take sometimes and you said, ‘Man, we needed that guy. We had to draft for need.' This is one of those exciting situations where you get somebody special – that you believe is special – and then you get a chance to go out there and just do it."
You still have a lot of needs, especially on defense. "We're ready to deal. We've played scenarios out in our heads a million times. We're trying to develop competition."
What do you think Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich think about the drafting of Freeman? "It's already been said. When you sign Luke McCown you give him straightforward honesty. ‘Hey Luke, I'm going to create a competitive environment. I'm not handing you anything. Worst-case scenario, I'm drafting a quarterback with the 19th pick. In my office with Luke McCown – we had this conversation. The worst-case scenario for you is your Drew Brees if become my starter and I have to trade you. But then I get value for you and you get value for yourself. Your Matt Cassel and your contract runs out and I trade you.' He's pretty jacked up, and so is Bryon. They see opportunity."
If you would have had a premium pick today – a top 10 pick – is Freeman still a Buccaneer? "I said this statement the other day. If I had the Detroit Lions' pick at number one I might take Josh Freeman. I would be fighting for him."
Are the Glazers excited about having a franchise quarterback? "The owners are very excited. They haven't had the opportunity to be this excited in 15 years. They are really pumped up. They have a chance at a franchise quarterback.
‘That's our quarterback!' to quote T.O. (wide receiver Terrell Owens)."