TAMPA — Convince me, I said.
Wait and see, said Mark Dominik.
I have my doubts, I said.
Stay tuned, said Dominik.
And then Dominik smiled slyly, as if perhaps he knew something already that the rest of Tampa Bay eventually will learn about a draft pick that seems, at first glance, a little risky.
Given all of the needs and all of the available choices, given all of the questions and all of the potential answers, the Bucs latched onto Freeman on Saturday afternoon as if he had the hidden directions to the Super Bowl. Judging from the giddy reaction of Bucs coach Raheem Morris, perhaps Freeman does.
For now, there are raised eyebrows. For now, there are doubts and questions. What about the defensive line? What about the secondary? What about the linebacking corps? What about Jeremy Maclin and Peria Jerry and Clay Matthews and Vontae Davis and all the other players who seemed ready to offer help more quickly?
Is Freeman that good?
When it comes to the concept of a franchise quarterback, of course, most of us are in favor of it. For years, the Bucs have tried to fill the position with short-term solutions, a Band-Aid here and a knee-wrap there, and the result was neither pretty nor was it effective.
But now? When the defense seems to have less talent than in a dozen years? Now? When there seem to be so many holes? Now? When there seem to be so many doubts?
Dominik nods. It is hours after the pick now, and he sits in a team meeting room deep inside One Buc Place. He knows the perceptions. He is aware of the questions.
And, yes, he loves the Bucs' draft pick. Of course he does.
"He's a franchise quarterback," Dominik said. "You have to take him. Teams don't have long-term success unless they have a franchise quarterback. It just doesn't happen."
That's the next question, though. Is Freeman a franchise quarterback? Dominik defines a franchise quarterback as a guy who is going to get a team into the playoffs, a guy who is going to be here longer than one contract, a guy who can give a team a chance to win every Sunday.
Morris certainly thinks Freeman fits the description. When he talks about Freeman, he's like a kid who just discovered ice cream. He was bouncing off the walls, referring to Freeman several times as "a franchise quarterback" and "our long-term answer."
Morris even said if the Bucs had the No. 1 overall pick, they might have taken Freeman.
Let's agree on this: If Freeman turns out to be that kind of quarterback, no one is ever going to grumble about the price. If he's comparable to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger — and the Bucs think he is — it was a good choice. If he was really the second-rated quarterback in the draft — which is where the Bucs scouts had him graded — it was a bargain.
Others wonder, however. Freeman was highly debated across the league. One scout referred to him as a stud. However, another calls him a developmental player with great raw tools.
Say this for Dominik, though. Saturday was his 100th day on the job, and if nothing else, the guy showed he has some guts. He has released popular players. He paid a price, in picks and in pay, for tight end Kellen Winslow. And now this.
Think about it like this: The Bucs could have won more approval by taking a half-dozen different players Saturday. But this is the one they wanted. This is the one they had with the highest grades. And in the end, they couldn't wait to get him. Fearful that someone would trade into the No. 18 position to beat the Bucs to him, they moved up to No. 17.
Certainly, the Bucs put their time into the pick. Dominik watched 20 of Freeman's 32 starts — and since Kansas State had the 118th-ranked defense in the country, it wasn't pretty. He talked to Freeman's friends, his teammates, his coaches, his former coaches. He had dinner with him. He attended a game in person. He studied the scouts' reports. He had daily conversations about him.
He asked about Freeman's leadership. He asked about his passion. He asked whether, with better teammates, he would be a winner.
In the end, he liked his answers. Eventually, perhaps you will like them, too. We'll see.
Soon, Freeman's game will speak for itself.
Convince me, I say.