Bucs QB Freeman says players were warned about Saints' 'cheap shots' past three years
Quarterback Josh Freeman said players were warned by Bucs coaches in advance about 'cheap shots,' the New Orleans Saints defense may attempt during games the past three seasons.
In fact, Freeman was the recipient of one of those illegal hits out of bounds by Saints cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who dove at his knees in a game at Raymond James Stadium in 2010. The Saints received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the play and Jenkins was later fined $10,000 for the illegal hit.
Freeman said he wasn't surprised to learn about the NFL's investigation into the Saints bounty system administered by former defensive coordinator Greg Williams in which players were paid for hits that forced opponents off the field or out of the game, along with fumble recoveries and interceptions.
“We just knew every time we played the Saints, they were going to take some cheap shots,’’ Freeman said Monday. "I mean, it was always something we acknowledged. We knew Greg Williams’ defenses were physical and they were going to get after you. Knowing what we know now, it’s not surprising that was the system that was set up for them.
“It is what it is. I’d just say it’s not surprising.''
The Bucs lost the game in which Jenkins was fined 31-6 but went on to finish 10-6, including a 23-13 win at New Orleans in the regular-season finale.
The NFL is considering disciplinary measures in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case that could include fines, the forfeiture of draft picks and/or suspensions of Williams, head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and various players.
Williams, who is the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, was called to New York Monday to meet with NFL security officials Jeff Miller and Joe Hummel for more discussion about the alleged violations of the league's bounty rules, according to ESPN.
Freeman, who says he has always had a lot of respect for Williams and the Saints defense, said Bucs coaches routinely warned offensive players to beware of New Orleans defenders making illegal hits, particularly near the sideline.
“We were told, “just kind of like watch your knees on sideline plays, everybody slowing up and one guy trying to take a shot when someone is unprepared,'' Freeman said. "It was unnecessary stuff.''
The Bucs are 3-3 against the Saints under Freeman, who took over as the starting quarterback with nine games remaining in 2009. At 6-foot-6, 248-pounds, the former first-round pick from Kansas State is better equipped than some quarterbacks to absorb a lot of punishment and routinely extends plays with his feet.
Freeman says that while every team attempts to impose physical punishment on opposing players, it's generally done within the rules. He said sometimes the Saints defense under Williams crossed the line.
"Everybody plays hard, but nobody goes out and tries to hurt each other,'' Freeman said. "You go out to hit people hard, you know, straight up. But we didn’t see whole lot of that other stuff except when we were playing the Saints.''
Freeman said having played in the NFC South for three seasons, he has become personally familiar with many of the Saints players and has no particular problem with them.
“I like a lot of those guys on the team,'' Freeman said. "I know a lot of Saints guys. Whether it was an extra incentive or whatever it is, I really don’t know what was going on in their locker room. It was just overall feeling.''
In fact, Freeman said he was unaware of the NFL's investigation into the Saints' bounty system that was announced Friday until Sunday.
"It’s interesting. I just heard about it yesterday, to be honest,'' Freeman said. "Someone sent me a link from a story. I read it and said, "this is interesting.''