TAMPA — Let's get this straight right up front: Josh Freeman is Tampa Bay's starting quarterback. Today. Tomorrow. At the start of training camp. On opening day in September.
But by taking N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of Friday night's NFL draft, the Bucs have purchased an insurance policy — and officially put Freeman on notice.
Time to shut up or put up, Josh. Get on the road to stardom or hit the road. You have exactly one year.
See, this pick isn't about now. It isn't even about the upcoming season. It's about a year from now.
Glennon won't enter training camp as a legitimate threat to Freeman's starting job. It won't be an open competition. Freeman is not going to be looking over his shoulder. Glennon has a big arm but is nowhere near ready to play at the next level.
He isn't the Seahawks' Russell Wilson, another N.C. State quarterback taken in the third round who immediately became one of the best signal-callers in the NFL. Glennon is a project, and he if ends up playing in 2013, the Bucs are in big trouble.
So why did the Bucs spend such a valuable pick on him?
GM Mark Dominik said Glennon really was the highest-rated player left on the Bucs' draft board. He and coach Greg Schiano claim they wanted a guy who could step in in case Freeman gets hurt, and Glennon could be that guy.
But here's what it smells like: The Bucs want someone ready to play in case Freeman is no longer the Bucs quarterback a year from now.
And for the first time since the Bucs made Freeman their first-round pick four years ago, that is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Freeman is about to go into his contract year, and the Bucs still aren't sold on him. There still is a question about whether he is the right quarterback to lead this franchise into the future. He is inconsistent, has never led the Bucs to the playoffs and still has moments when you can't help but doubt him.
In a perfect world, Freeman comes out next season and turns into Joe Flacco. The Bucs go 11-5, make the playoffs, maybe even win a playoff game or two. Then you sign Freeman to a nice extension and he's your quarterback for years to come.
That's in the perfect world.
But let's say Freeman comes out next season and plays like dog food. Say the Bucs go 6-10 and miss the playoffs again. At that point, the Bucs almost certainly will close the book on Freeman. No way they'll want to commit several years and millions of dollars to him.
What then? Schiano would be entering his third season as coach and very well could be fighting to save his job. You think he would be willing to turn over his future as an NFL head coach to some rookie who has never even been on an NFL practice field or in a Bucs meeting room? You think he would trust his fortunes to some kid he has never seen from field level?
That's why the Bucs took Glennon on Friday night. If the latter Freeman scenario plays out, at least Schiano and the Bucs would be able to turn to someone who has been with the organization for a year, learning the Buccaneer way.
If the Bucs hit the skids again next season, there's no telling what the quarterback market will be like a year from now. Maybe the 2014 quarterback draft class will be lousy. Maybe the Bucs won't be bad enough to be able to draft themselves a franchise quarterback. And who knows what the free-agent class might look like? Freeman could end being the top free-agent QB out there.
So Glennon is your insurance policy if Freeman flames out. Perhaps Glennon will be your next franchise quarterback. Perhaps he will be the stopgap until you find an even better quarterback. Maybe you still end up drafting another QB next year.
What Glennon is not is simply competition with Dan Orlovsky to be Freeman's backup. If that is all he is, then the Bucs wasted a pick.
Glennon is here today in case Freeman is not here in a year.
Call it a quarterback controversy a year in the making.