5th Year. 13,534 yards. 58.2% completion. 80 TDs. 66 INTs. QBR 78.8.
These stats are not bad, alright. In fact they are pretty respectable, and Josh Freeman is a very capable quarterback, he is just in a situation where the team have no attachment to him, and want to see what the next man up can offer them ahead of the draft. It's really an evaluative decision to bench Josh Freeman in favour of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. Head Coach Greg Schiano claims it was a 'performance-based decision' as Freeman currently has the lowest completion percentage in all of the NFL with 45.3%. The whole Bucs team has underperformed, including Freeman, and he has taken the fall for it. I wouldn't be surprised to see him play for the Bucs again this season if Glennon tanks, which is likely. On the trade block, teams should be interested in Josh Freeman, including the Cardinals. But why?
To begin with, the Cardinals quarterback situation, although it's stable, is not exactly a strong point. I think Carson Palmer was a great addition, but I feel he has been made out to be better than he is, because of how bad the situation was prior to his arrival. Palmer is on a two-year deal, he is 33 years old, he is not the long-term answer, and we all know he was a stop gap for either one or two years while another quarterback waits in the wings (sorry, not you Drew Stanton, all you'll ever be is a career backup).
Josh Freeman is 25, he is still young and has a lot to learn at the position, and Bruce Arians, renowned quarterback 'guru' could work with him and get him ready to play in 2014 or 2015, relatively easily. Josh Freeman has the capacity to make every throw you're asked to make in the NFL, I mean, he has a cannon, which is ideal for Arians' vertical offense. I don't think we want to admit it, but Palmer's arm is fading. He has a number of under-thrown passers already this summer and he is losing that 'zip' on the ball. Freeman is still growing, and can step in when called upon.
Freeman has all the physical tools to succeed, but what about the mental side?
Let's start with the situation in Tampa Bay. The much-publicized rift between him and Head Coach Greg Schiano has not been beneficial for Freeman. Portrayed as the bad-guy, he's actually the victim of being forced out, in my opinion. The coaching staff want to put their own stamp on this team, and it starts with the quarterback. The supposedly rigged team captaincy votes, and the missed team photo, were indications that Freeman's time in Tampa was drawing to a close.
Imagine playing with the mentality that, you know that your team doesn't want you, feel like they can do better without you. How can you play at your best like that? You can't. 571 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs and a 45.7% completion is not a great way to start off the season, but it's not all on him. A dinged up offensive line has put increased pressure on him within the pocket. The running game with Doug Martin has not matched the extraordinary heights as last season, and he has suffered from a lot of drops.
Another thing that should be noted is the schedule. Not that I am making excuses for Freeman, but he has played against three very tough defensive units that like to apply pressure, and a lot of it. The Jets and Saints both have improving secondaries that have been able to take Vincent Jackson out of the game. He has not been as impactful as 2012. The Rob Ryan defense in New Orleans likes to blitz, and Josh Freeman has not been the best at making key decisions and reads in his career.
If I can, I would like to take us back to the 2012 season, where Freeman went on an unbelievable run between Weeks 5-11.
During this stretch, Freeman went for 1,971 yards (282 YPG), 60% completion, 16 TDs 3 INTs, average passer rating of 107.7. The Buccaneers went 5-2 over this stretch. These are performances Josh Freeman is capable of. The key for me was the interceptions, or lack there of. He has proven that over a period of time and games, he can be a franchise quarterback. He has the potential, it's there in the performances. He lacks the consistency, which may come from better coaching and nurturing of ones talents.
The Buccs defense last year was awful as well, especially against the pass. Freeman was involved in a lot of shoot-outs last year, and prevailed. Over that stretch the Buccs allowed 23.3 PPG. They put the game on his shoulders and he delivered in style, with their offense scoring on average 32.6 PPG. He was able to put teams away, beyond comeback, something the Cardinals have been unable to do for the past few seasons.
Freeman has also shown the capability of making fourth quarter comebacks in his career, with 10 4th Q comebacks/game winning drives, in addition to his ability to put games out of reach for their opponents, which makes me reflect back on Week One of this season. The Cardinals had an 11 point, two score lead on the St Louis Rams entering the fourth quarterback, but managed to throw it away. The offense couldn't convert on third downs, and Palmer missed some throws.
Freeman is like the Jekyll and Hyde of quarterbacks, you just don't know what you're going to get. One week, he'll be lights out, straight up baller, and the next he'll tank and throw three picks. He's an enigma.
Here's what we know about Freeman. He has all the physical tools to be successful in the NFL as a quarterback, especially in Bruce Arians' offense. He has proven in the past he can not only come from behind to win, but put games out of reach for an opponent, not allowing them back in. He's still young, and has the mentality to want to grown and become a better player. He is also an underrated runner of the football, with 922 rushing yards and 4 TDs to his name, he can be effective as a runner, especially on short yardage situations with a player of his size.
So the question is: Why would we trade for him?
Freeman is in a contract year, and would become a free agent in the offseason, so whether or not you trade for him, you'll need to extend him, and he may ask for astronomical fee's you just don't know. But a player with his potential, and still his best years are ahead of him, someone has to be interested.
According to reports, the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars have already ruled themselves out of the running for Freeman, who is seeking a trade following his benching. The Buccs are not looking for much in return for Freeman, and are looking to recoup 'anything' for him. A fifth or sixth round pick in next years draft has been touted as possible trade bait.
If a team takes on Freeman at this stage, they will have to bear the cap hit. He has $6.942M remaining of his $8.43 base salary for 2013, which would be a problem for most NFL teams, as only nine teams have the cap space to add Freeman right now. Teams looking to trade for Freeman would look to renegotiate that contract with a better cap structure.
A big factor in trading for Freeman is the 2014 draft class. Trading for Freeman virtually ends all interest in drafting a quarterback next year, as they would likely be tied to him for the long-term. I see the Cardinals drafting in the 8-14 range, likely eliminating prospects such as Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd and Brett Hundley should they declare this year.
A lot of the quarterbacks coming out are running quarterbacks, not exactly part of the Arians philosophy of deep passing and the vertical offense, so players like Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota, should they declare, are not the best fits in Arizona.
And they we come onto some of the developmental guys in the draft, like Zach Mettenberger and Logan Thomas. Two quarterbacks that we really don't know their full potential, but could be busts. It depends on their growth and development in the next few months. Also guys like A.J. McCarron and Aaron Murray could be in the mix in the late rounds, but there isn't much upside there.
Continuing to look at the 2014 draft class. Taking on Freeman would open up our options. The two biggest areas of need are outside linebacker and offensive tackle. Having missed out on both last year, where we are projected to be drafting, there will be some impressive first round talents. Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan are the stand-out candidates at offensive tackle we should look at, as Levi Brown is just... words cannot describe how incapable he is. At outside linebacker, prospects such as Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy and Anthony Barr all have 'elite' talent at an injury-hit position in out 3-4 defense.
There is also the factor of Carson Palmer's contract. Having signed a two year deal worth $16M back in April, Palmer is scheduled to have an $8M base salary in 2014, $2M of which is guaranteed an has a cap number of $10M. The organization also has a one-year-out clause in Palmer's contract, enabling them to void the rest of his deal should they want to. The coaching staff may feel that Freeman will be their guy and Stanton would be a more affordable backup. Freeman's hypothetical arrival would say a lot about their immediate faith in Carson Palmer, whether it would be to replace him or compete, but one thing we do no, if Freeman comes in, someone has to go.
Also, would the organization be willing to give up a draft pick for a guy like Freeman?
General Manager Steve Keim values his picks, having missed on a couple of picks from his first draft already who have failed to make an impact, unfortunately. What else could we offer? Someone that comes to mind is running back Ryan Williams. Inactive for the first three games and doesn't look like he'll get a sniff anytime soon, much has been said about his trade value. The Bucs don't have a backup to Doug Martin, having traded LeGarrette Blount to the New England Patriots. Williams would assume a backup role (like Freeman is now) and be a part of a team that will use him. I makes sense for both teams, really.
Freeman isn't the only quarterback set to become a free agent in the offseason. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is also in a contract year. A player of a higher pedigree and has been a perennial winner with the Bears since he arrived there. Play-off experience and fits our system, but the price would be higher, contract wise anyway. He has been very impressive in Marc Trestman's offense in Chicago, and would be a welcome addition, should he become available.
To conclude, Josh Freeman is unhappy in Tampa Bay, and is looking for a new home. He has the talent to play the position, well enough to be a franchise guy, but needs a situation where it doesn't have to be all him. A talented group of backs and receivers that can all grow and develop with him will surely help, and a coaching group that will back him and support him though the process. Arians worked wonders with Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger, who says he cannot do the same with Freeman. If I wake up to the news the Cardinals traded for him, I would be pleased, because then I know the team are making moves to make the team better in the long-term.