By Max Luckan
While their quarterback situation may not be as bad as the one the New York Jets are currently dealing with, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to start sincerely pondering the question of whether or not Josh Freeman is a true franchise quarterback. More importantly, they must consider if Freeman is the QB of the future for the Bucs. At times in 2012, he's looked like that franchise guy, but then at other times, he's looked lost and confused. The situation in Tampa isn't as drastic as the one in New York with the Jets and Mark Sanchez, but both teams are currently trying to win with below-average quarterbacks.
In 2010, Freeman threw for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. That year, the Bucs, with a final record of 10-6, narrowly missed the playoffs and all was going well. The following season, Freeman threw for 3,592 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions, while the Bucs finished with a 4-12 record. Besides the interceptions, which obviously play a large role in the success of a quarterback, Freeman's numbers weren't bad. He completed 62.8 percent of his passes after all. This season, Freeman has had his ups and downs. So far, he's thrown for 3,471 yards and 25 touchdowns, but he's also been picked off 12 times. His apparent fluctuation in play has prompted many to beg the question: Is Freeman a franchise QB?
The easy answer always seems to be no. One could argue that there are only a few franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, including Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning. This premise would be based on the sheer success that these quarterbacks have had. By the way, "success" could loosely be defined as having won a Super Bowl. Freeman, of course, hasn't won a Super Bowl yet, but he's only in his fourth season. And then there's always the diplomatic answer.
"It is too early in his career to determine," one rival executive said. That's actually a good answer, given the fact that Freeman's only played in 55 career games. He'll need time to develop, and coach Greg Schiano understands that as well. Schiano doesn't seem to be too worried about his struggles. "If Josh Freeman wasn't coming in and just spending all kinds of time, and I wasn't getting texts … asking questions at 10 o'clock at night about coverages and things like that, then yeah, I'd have reason to be concerned," Schiano said, according to ESPN.com.
"But I know everybody goes through better times and lesser times. I also know that those who persevere, those who work and tend to their knitting, are going to be fine," Schiano added.
Finally, there's the opinion that Freeman is a franchise quarterback. This argument could very well be made off the idea that Freeman had an extremely successful year in 2010 with limited weapons. He didn't have Doug Martin in the backfield or Vincent Jackson to throw to two years ago, yet he led the team to a surprising 10-6 record.
The second answer is probably the best one for now. Quarterbacks don't typically peak until their eighth season or so, so we haven't seen the best version of Freeman yet.
The problem for the Bucs is that they're running out of time to make that final evaluation and answer the ever-lingering question. Freeman is due to make $8,430,000 next season and will be an unrestricted free agent after that. He'll certainly be around through next season, and because of limited alternatives, Freeman will probably have to be the guy for the Bucs for the foreseeable future.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.
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