TAMPA — Like any quarterback, he wanted to be right on the money. So when Josh Freeman was asked if he felt additional pressure entering the final year of his rookie contract — with so many dollars at stake — he refused to be dragged into a discussion.
"It doesn't really change anything for me," Freeman said Tuesday in his first public comments in nearly five months. "Obviously, I love being a Buccaneer. But at the same time, the job is to go out and find a way to win. Worrying about any sort of external forces, contract, all this stuff, you can't worry about that. It's not going to help you play better.
"I give it all I've got, regardless. I love my teammates. I love football, and I love winning."
Freeman is coming off four mostly seesaw seasons.
In 2012, he set club records for passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27). But the Bucs lost five of their final six — nine of Freeman's 17 interceptions were in the final three games — to finish 7-9.
The Bucs haven't made the playoffs with Freeman. But he's only 25, has missed just one game to injury and played for three offensive coordinators in his four seasons.
"It bothers me a lot knowing the type of team we have and our capabilities, being close but not quite getting there," he said. "The only reason you play this game is you want to go out and win. You want to win championships, and you want to walk away and have a handful of rings. The drive is there. … We've just got to find a way to put it all together."
Bucs coach Greg Schiano put Freeman in some precarious positions during this offseason. First, he indicated he wanted to increase competition at quarterback only to insist he misspoke and was referring to all positions. Later, he acknowledge he wasn't "married," to Freeman, who was drafted 17th overall out of Kansas State in 2009 by then-coach Raheem Morris.
Freeman said Thursday that he has a good relationship with Schiano and hasn't paid much attention to his comments.
"The entire offseason, I've been in constant communication with Coach," Freeman said. "I … sat down and talked with him about a number of things football-related, life-related. Me and Coach, we've got a great relationship. Every now and then, somebody will call you and say, 'Hey, man, what's up with you and your coach?' But we know how it is. It's something I'm not really concerned about it."
Freeman hopes to improve both as a passer and a leader in his second season with offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
"Last year, I feel like I could've been more vocal," he said. "But at the same time, learning a new system, it's kind of like you want to make sure you've got your house clean before you tell someone else their house is messy."
Freeman talked about a "different sort of energy" at One Buc Place with the addition safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis. But he is keenly aware of his situation.
"It's interesting because just talking to different guys, talking to my dad, talking to Coach Schiano … it's all set up to be a high-stress situation," he said. "But I know that's stuff I can't really control. All I can control is my day-to-day process, coming in, trying to get better, being a leader, being the best quarterback I can be for the Buccaneers and leave the rest to God."
In a moment of levity, Freeman talked about his photo spread in ESPN the Magazine in which he was transformed into Michael Jackson and duplicated the album covers of Thriller and Off the Wall.
"My moonwalking days are over," Freeman said.
This season, it's either Thriller or Beat It.
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.