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Shelton: Sure Josh Freeman struggles, but it could be worse

There are times when he looks sleepy. There are times when his arm seems beyond his control. There are times when his decision-making looks more like guesswork.

Yeah, it's a tough time to be Josh Freeman.

On the other hand, it could be worse.

He could be Mark Sanchez.

There are times when his town sounds tired of him. There are times when it is easy to wonder if he tests the patience of his coaches as much as he does that of the fans. There are times when Freeman still looks like more of a question than an answer.

Yeah, Bucs fans seem fairly annoyed at their quarterback these days.

On the other hand, it could be worse.

He could be Joe Flacco.

Things are tough all over, and especially for quarterbacks. What's the old line about poor people? That God must have loved them, because he made so many of them? Same with quarterbacks. If you're giving out grades, not many passers are passing.

Not Philip Rivers. Not Tony Romo. Not Michael Vick. Not Carson Palmer or Christian Ponder or Jake Locker. Not Alex Smith or Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not Brandon Weeden or Kevin Kolb or Matt Cassel. Frankly, Eli Manning is in a funk himself these days.

So, yeah, Freeman had an awful day at the office on Sunday.

Still, he had lots of company.

If you are a Bucs fan, this probably doesn't make you feel better. A town on a losing streak has no time for someone else's pain, and in general, fans couldn't give a hoot about the frustrations of other fans. To them, it is as simple as this: Freeman played poorly against the Saints.

In Tampa Bay, the outrage has been unleashed. He isn't accurate enough or fiery enough or decisive enough. There are people who will tell you that they knew on the day of his birth that he would be an unacceptable quarterback. On the other hand, the Bucs lost by 41 points on Sunday. Not to get in the way of Tampa Bay's lather, but how good would Freeman have had to be to change the outcome?

At this point, I don't think there are any final answers to Freeman. He has been very good at times. He has been very bad at times. He has been very frustrating at times.

Then again, that's the NFL. Except for a few cities, everyone's quarterback is making every city miserable. There are the elite quarterbacks — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger and, possibly, Eli Manning — and there are the super rookies — Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and, lately, Russell Wilson. Except for that, every quarterback comes with his own heartache.

Did you get a load of Sanchez's going-out-of-business sale Monday night? He was not only bad enough to lose his job — and good luck to Greg McElroy — he was bad enough to make you wonder why he had it this long.

Have you paid attention to Flacco lately? He has been so bad that Ravens fans are talking about alternatives themselves.

Rivers? His decision-making has been so bad lately that he would struggle to finish fourth on Jeopardy.

So where does that leave Freeman? How good is he? And besides better, how good should he be?

If you are fair, Freeman is about in the middle of the pack. After Sunday, ESPN's total quarterback rating has him 16th in the league. That's about right. That rating has him above Carolina's Cam Newton and Chicago's Jay Cutler and St. Louis' Sam Bradford. Also above Flacco and Rivers and Sanchez.

His traditional quarterback rating? It's ahead of Eli and Matthew Stafford and Cutler and Flacco.

Not great, but not garbage.

If you look at it game by game, Freeman has two grade-F performances this year: Dallas and Sunday's game against the Saints. Maybe a D against the Broncos. He was awful for a half against the Eagles, but he helped his team to an 11-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter. He had a slow start against the Redskins, but he left the field that day with a lead the defense couldn't hold.

Around Tampa Bay, however, Freeman has never sustained success long enough for the benefit of the doubt. He had five straight games where his quarterback rating was above 100, and still, no one seemed convinced. After Sunday's game, however, people say his name as if it is a swear word. No one seems happy with a quarterback who is only good some of the time.

And yet, people seem ready to trade him for, well, just about anyone. For Smith. For Flacco. For Tim Tebow.

Ask yourself this: When is the last time a team traded for someone else's backup and had that backup become a star? No, it wasn't Cassel. No, it wasn't Matt Flynn. It probably hasn't happened since the Packers swiped Brett Favre from the Falcons.

Like it or not, the noise is probably going to continue.

So far, Freeman has played well enough to keep his job.

What he hasn't done is play well enough to make you smile over the prospect.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

Shelton: Sure Josh Freeman struggles, but it could be worse 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:26pm]
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