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Bucs should sign QB Josh Freeman to long-term extension now

Sign him. There's no reason to wait. We've seen enough.

Josh Freeman is the man. Today. Tomorrow. Next Sunday. Next season. For years to come.

Freeman is the franchise quarterback the Bucs have been looking for since … well, forever.

General manager Mark Dominik might as well pick up the phone right now and call Freeman's agent, who also happens to be Freeman's father, to start discussing a long-term contract extension. The conversation starts at about $100 million.

What's the hurry, you say? Freeman still has four games left this season and then all of next season on his original five-year, $26 million contract. Why not wait?

Here's what I say: Why wait?

What, you still don't believe in Freeman? You think there's an available quarterback out there who is better? Are you ready to start from scratch with someone new?

Let's look at Freeman and why the Bucs should get cracking on that long-term extension.

He is the franchise QB

Freeman's detractors will talk about completion percentage and this bad throw and that bad read and argue Freeman is not a franchise quarterback. But at this point, he has to be. The Bucs are married to him now. Starting over with another quarterback isn't realistic.

What are you going to do, take someone else's scrub such as the 49ers' Alex Smith or the Dolphins' Matt Moore? That's no upgrade. Maybe Freeman is not a top-10 quarterback, but he's hovering just outside that neighborhood and certainly better than any quarterback carrying a clipboard.

With the success of the Colts' Andrew Luck and Redskins' Robert Griffin III, there's a school of thought that a rookie can come in right away and make an impact. But you're not going to get one of those studs unless you're at the bottom of the league and the top of the draft. Besides, rookie success doesn't guarantee anything. Just look at Carolina's Cam Newton.

He has earned it

Freeman's 31/2-year career as a starter has gone up and down, but this really is the only season where he can be fairly judged. This is the first time he has been surrounded by real talent.

Last year, Freeman's best target was Kellen Winslow Jr., who isn't even in football anymore. Dezmon Briscoe led the team with six touchdown catches. He's barely in the league. Leading rusher LeGarrette Blount ran for fewer than 800 yards and couldn't catch a cold out of the backfield. No wonder Freeman had a lousy season.

Now look at this year. With a real No. 1 receiver in Vincent Jackson and a star running back who can run and catch in Doug Martin and Mike Williams moving from a No. 1 receiver to a No. 2, Freeman is having his best season.

He has thrown 23 touchdowns — more than Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. He has thrown only eight interceptions — fewer than Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. He's on pace for a career-high 4,000 yards. His 92.1 rating is tied for 10th in the league with Brees. He continues to show a knack for fourth-quarter comebacks.

Oh, here's another aspect that cannot be ignored. In a league where quarterbacks get hurt all the time, Freeman has missed one start since getting the No. 1 job 53 games ago.

Potential remains high

As good as he is now, you have to think Freeman will only get better. The kid is only 24. That's younger than Sam Bradford. That's the same as Ryan Tannehill. And he has more NFL starts than those two combined. He's barely older than Luck, who has started 40 fewer games than Freeman.

"Absolutely, he has continued to improve,'' said Mike Sullivan, Freeman's third offensive coordinator in four seasons. "If you look at the touchdown-to-interception ratio, that's always going to be a big indicator. I think he has made great strides in his mechanics and his fundamentals, and I think he's headed in the right direction.''

What kind of deal are we talking about?

Well, Ryan and the Ravens' Joe Flacco are going to get contract extensions in the offseason. Both came in the year before Freeman but are three years older.

Ryan could get $20 million a year. Flacco could bring in $16 million, maybe more. Don't be surprised if Freeman slots somewhere between the two. Brace yourself. We're talking something like six years for upwards of $100 million.

No question that's a lot of money. But that's the going rate.

Final thought

There certainly is a risk of signing Freeman sooner rather that later. The Jets signed Mark Sanchez to a fat extension last offseason, and Jets fans are ready to run him out of New York. There's a risk in waiting, too. Prices might go up. Freeman might get a wandering eye.

But here's the deal: Freeman likely isn't going anywhere. You rarely see a quarterback test the open market after his first contract. If Freeman looks like he's headed in that direction, the Bucs could place a franchise tag on him and will have to pay him crazy money anyway. And serious conversations about a new contract probably won't happen until after the season.

Here's the point: It's time to come out and say Freeman is your guy. It's time to put the future of the franchise in Freeman's hands.

It starts with a phone call.

It ends with a signature.

Tom Jones can be reached at tjones @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

Bucs should sign QB Josh Freeman to long-term extension now 12/05/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 9:41pm]
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