PHOENIX — If Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is going to make the leap from erratic to elite, it had better happen this year.
Coach Greg Schiano believes if Freeman can eliminate the three bad games that torpedoed his progress last season, he will be more than capable of ending Tampa Bay's five-season playoff drought.
But coach-quarterback relationships are delicate, so don't think Schiano is wedded beyond 2013 to Freeman, who is in the final year of his contract.
"I've said I believe we can win and achieve all the goals we want with Josh Freeman as our quarterback," Schiano said Wednesday, the final day of the owners' meetings. "But to say you're married, well, nobody is married to anyone in this game. The reality is this is a performance-based game. You've got to win. They're not married to me. You've got to win or I'm not going to be the coach. Everybody in this game gets that.
"We're in a really neat position, where he has all those years of experience and yet he is 25. I liken it to a baseball player who has gone through the minor leagues and now he's ready to do it.
"I believe he's going to have a great season and it's going to catapult him to where he wants to go and where we want to go. But you've got to do it."
Freeman set club records for single-season passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27) last season, but the team finished 7-9. Ten interceptions came in three games; he had four-interception clunkers in back-to-back losses to New Orleans and St. Louis in December.
Schiano is a little less concerned with Freeman's 54.8 completion percentage, the lowest since his 2009 rookie year. The Bucs use a vertical passing game and downfield throws are harder to connect. But Schiano said Freeman has struggled with accuracy, particularly on short and intermediate throws.
Schiano said Freeman's indecision led to bad mechanics, which led to inaccurate throws. He said Freeman needs to process information more quickly, which is partly why he hired former Cardinals quarterbacks coach John McNulty.
"When you watch a quarterback, when his feet are not in synch with his upper body, there's two things that make that happen," Schiano said. "One is pass rush and two is decision-making. Now all of a sudden your brain is either ahead or behind your feet because the platform with which you throw the ball dictates 80 percent of your accuracy. And if you don't set your platform correctly, you don't have a chance.
"There are certain times where there's too much indecision, whether it's scheme, coaching or playing. Whatever it is, it's got to happen more quickly."
Schiano's unfamiliarity with Freeman — and Freeman's charge to learn another offensive scheme under coordinator Mike Sullivan last season — also delayed progress. Schiano said coaches did a better job of changing Freeman's launch point.
"As the year went on, it became very clear to us that he's an incredibly accurate passer on the run, so we started moving the pocket more, and I thought he was very effective with that," Schiano said.
The scrutiny Freeman faces will never be higher. Or the stakes. "I think it comes with the position. Head coach and the quarterback, those are the guys who have to have the broad shoulders," Schiano said. "I think he's ready for it."
Notes: Bucs free agent cornerback E.J. Biggers signed with the Redskins. He reunites with Washington secondary coach Raheem Morris, the Bucs' head coach when Biggers was drafted in 2009. It's likely the Bucs could have re-signed Biggers, but they seemed lukewarm about it. … Two Bucs free agents re-signed: long snapper Andrew Economos and linebacker Jacob Cutrera.