Bucs fans' fear? Freeman goes from trash to terrific

Josh Freeman, left, works out with Vikings quarterbacks Matt Cassel, center, and Christian Ponder, right.
Josh Freeman, left, works out with Vikings quarterbacks Matt Cassel, center, and Christian Ponder, right.
Published Oct. 18, 2013

He just got into town, and already, the huddle belongs to him.

His bags might not be unpacked, and he probably isn't sure of all of his teammates' names, and the burn marks from Greg Schiano are probably still visible to the naked eye.

Already, however, Josh Freeman has taken over the Minnesota Vikings' offense.

Just wondering, but are we already on the way to "Here we go again?"

This is the grand fear in Tampa Bay. If you have spent any time at all following the Bucs, you are concerned of the worst possible ending. Josh in the playoffs. Josh in the Super Bowl. Josh on his way to Disney World, and after that, the bank.

New quarterback.

Same story.

It keeps happening, doesn't it? The Bucs toss a young quarterback into the wastebasket, and someone else dusts him off, and the next thing you know he's holding up a Lombardi Trophy. And the world wonders: Where did the Bucs go wrong? Again?

I know, I know. These days, Freeman is someone else's quarterback, and to some, that is a perfectly good reason to erase him from your memory. Even if you consider the unseemly way his tenure ended here, Freeman never did seem to make a lot of people happy. He is 25, but rarely has a quarterback gotten old so quickly.

He lacked fire, he threw too many interceptions and, in the end, he seemed to pave his own exit ramp. Yes, the Bucs could have worked harder to protect their asset — a coach has to deal with unhappy athletes sometimes; it's called coaching — but it's hard to suggest that Freeman didn't at least contribute to his own demise.

Given that, do you wish Freeman luck at his restart against the Giants on Monday night? Do you hold it against him how it ended? Do you blame Schiano? Do you remember the good times? Both of them?

The thing is, a Bucs fan can't afford to forget. Not with this team's history of firing perfectly good quarterbacks.

Remember Doug Williams, the MVP of Super Bowl XXII? The Bucs threw him away at age 27. With the Redskins, Williams got hot at the right time, at the start of the playoffs. By the time he destroyed the Broncos in the Super Bowl, it was a reminder just how cheap the Bucs were.

Remember Steve Young, the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX? Oh, the Bucs helped. If they hadn't given Young away to the 49ers (for a second- and a fourth-round draft pick) when he was 26, then he wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame today. By the time Young shredded the Chargers, it was a reminder of just how dumb the Bucs were.

Remember Trent Dilfer, who finished second in the MVP voting for Super Bowl XXXV. The Bucs let him go when he was 27. There was a lot of discussion before the game that Dilfer was the worst quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl, but he played efficiently as the Ravens beat the Giants, fittingly, in Tampa. And in the end, it was a reminder of just how little help he had with the Bucs offense.

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And so it goes. Every Bucs coach seems to have thrown away a quarterback or two. Chris Chandler, rejected at 26, reached the Super Bowl with the Falcons. Vinny Testaverde, let go at 29, got to the AFC title game with the Jets. Even Bruce Gradkowski made the playoffs last year, although the Bengals were careful to keep him as far from the field as possible.

Now this.

If we are fair, most of us expected Freeman to find a new team and a new chance. But this quickly? Evidently, Freeman won over his new coaches by how quickly he grabbed his suitcase off of the conveyor belt. One minute, he's on the plane, and the next, the Vikings are asking him to fly it.

There, he has been praised for how hard he works. Here, all you heard about is the meetings he missed. There, he has been praised for his arm strength. Here, you heard about his lack of accuracy. There, he is the new hope. Here, he had run out of it.

"A lot of the underlying questions I've been getting from a lot of people are, 'Do I have a chip on my shoulder?' " Freeman said to Minneapolis reporters this week. "Sure, I do, but I think it's more deeply rooted than just the past six months, 12 months. I just want to go out there and be great."



So what's the answer? Will Freeman be any better with the Vikings? Right now, the Minnesota coaching staff has fallen in love with his considerable tools. They haven't seen those four-interception days up close. Hey, the Bucs liked Freeman for a long time, too.

As far as Freeman being the latest quarterback to make Bucs fans wistful when they see his highlights, he has a chance. But only a chance. The Vikings playbook is 45 percent "hand off to Adrian Peterson to the right" and 45 percent "hand off to Adrian Peterson to the left." Freeman can do that. He can throw deep every now and then to Greg Jennings to back the safeties off. For goodness sakes, he can be better than Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel.

So far, however, the Vikings have only one win, and they're ranked 31st in defense, and they have given up 30 points or more in four of five games. Odds are, they will continue to struggle. And where does that put Freeman? With a new contract? With yet another new team?

Is he better off? Sure. From the moment the Bucs decided not to offer Freeman a new contract, it was obvious that Schiano didn't see Freeman as the long-term solution. The quickness with which Minnesota signed him, and the hurry they had in making him a starter, shows that other coaches feel differently.

Odds are, Freeman will have a decent career. But is he going to end up in the Super Bowl? Hard to say, when Peyton Manning has been there once, when Drew Brees has been there once, when Dan Marino got there once.

Around here, we all know the litany of quarterbacks who have passed through Tampa on their way to success. But not everyone does. Craig Erickson didn't. Byron Leftwich didn't. Jack Thompson and Jerry Goldsteyn and Randy Hedberg didn't.

I don't know about you, but I wish Freeman luck. For that matter, I bet Schiano wishes him luck, too. At least a little bit of it.

After all, Minneapolis is 1,586 miles away.

That sounds far enough, doesn't it?