Tampa Bay Buccaneers top draft pick, quarterback Josh Freeman, signs five-year, $36 million deal, reports to training camp

TAMPA — It was important for Josh Freeman to be signed and in training camp on time.

That's why the Bucs' first-round draft pick said he ''made a little compromise'' in agreeing to a five-year, $36 million deal hours before the team reported to One Buc Place on Friday.

Freeman wants a fair opportunity to battle for the starting quarterback job against veterans Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich. But it's clear the 21-year-old rookie also will be competing with the Bucs' grand plan to make him sit and learn.

"As you know, that hasn't happened every year in the league — the Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco story," said coach Raheem Morris, referring to the rookie quarterbacks last year who ended up starting for the Falcons and Ravens, respectively.

"For the most part, it's been the Philip Rivers story," he said, bringing up the Chargers' three-year starter. "It's been you sit behind a quarterback, the franchise makes a decision, they move on, they trade Drew Brees, and he becomes our headache. … That's the history of our league.

"When we drafted (Freeman), when we had our conversations, that's exactly what we said to each other: 'We'll get the guy, we'll get him in here, we'll let it play itself out.' … Now, as you guys saw in OTA (organized team activities) days, Josh became … a good problem. We'll make that decision as we go.''

Morris shed more light on how the Bucs plan to handle Freeman and the quarterback derby. Basically, he said McCown, 28, and Leftwich, 29, deserve to get the most reps and therefore have the best chance to compete for the starting job.

Freeman and second-year pro Josh Johnson, 23, will get in work when they can during training camp practices and preseason games. Morris said one veteran will start the first preseason game, Aug. 15 at Tennessee, and the other will start the second, Aug. 22 at Jacksonville. Before the preseason home opener, Aug. 27 against Miami, Morris would like to name his signal-caller for the regular season.

Leftwich said the sooner the Bucs make a call, the better.

"I don't know how they're going to do it. We have four quarterbacks here. Only one can play at a time," he said. "Hopefully, they can get it over quick. This is one of those things you don't want lingering for four preseason games."

Leftwich played well during five games in relief of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last season. He has a big edge in experience over McCown, who threw one pass last season and is 1-6 in his career as a starter.

"For the last two training camps … no matter what I did, I wasn't going to play in front of Ben," said Leftwich, who enters his seventh season having played in 54 games, including his first five seasons in Jacksonville. "Having this chance to come out here and play and be in the competition to win the starting quarterback job is exciting to me."

Friday marked the fifth time McCown has reported to training camp with the Bucs. In the past, the team always paid lip service to his chances of winning the starting job. This year is different.

"It's actually there," McCown said of the opportunity heading into his sixth season. "You go into camp expecting to be the starter every year, but (now) somebody says, 'You really have a chance this year.' It's a little added emphasis for me. … It means a lot to me that I'm getting that opportunity."

As for Freeman, who left Kansas State after his junior season, his time will certainly come. The Bucs guaranteed $10.245-million of his contract, and he is the anointed quarterback of the future. When the future arrives is anyone's guess.

"Honestly, I couldn't tell you," Freeman said of his chance to start as a rookie. "That's all the coach's decision. I'm just going to come in and try to give them every reason I can to start me."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers top draft pick, quarterback Josh Freeman, signs five-year, $36 million deal, reports to training camp 07/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 12:10am]

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