TAMPA — At a breakfast for suite-holders at Raymond James Stadium, what Greg Schiano said was probably not very appetizing to Bucs fans.
"What I walked into was a very, very bad situation," the coach said. "A very messy situation. A situation that quite frankly, nationally, the Buccaneers were the laughingstock of the National Football League. A laughingstock."
A few hours later, the franchise that lately had become the butt of jokes for its handling of an inevitable split with quarterback Josh Freeman, got down to serious business.
The winless Bucs released Freeman, the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, after watching him go from marvelous to marginal in just more than four seasons.
Freeman, who was benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon before Sunday's 13-10 loss to the Cardinals, did not walk out of One Buc Place empty-handed. The team must pay him the remainder of his salary, about $6.2 million. He is now a free agent and can double-dip by signing with any team.
Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik called the 31 other NFL teams in a last-ditch attempt to trade the 25-year-old but found no takers. So Freeman got what he wanted, and the Bucs got what they needed — a break from the schism between their one-time franchise quarterback that mushroomed.
"We made the decision today to release Josh Freeman," Dominik said in a statement released by the team. "We appreciate his efforts over the past five seasons, but we felt this was in the best interests of both Josh and the Buccaneers."
Tampa Bay's history is steeped in first-round quarterbacks who ended up leaving for success elsewhere: Doug Williams, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer and Vinny Testaverde, the first three going on to win Super Bowls.
Even his last name seems to mock the Bucs now — Free-man.
Freeman completed 43 of 94 passes (47.5 percent) for 571 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions while failing to win any of his first three starts this season.
His release comes three days after he revealed he voluntarily agreed to enter the league's substance-abuse program after, he said, switching from Adderall to Ritalin to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He says he has passed 46 league-administered drug tests over the past 18 months at One Buc Place.
On Monday, ESPN first reported of Freeman's involvement in the league's substance-abuse program.
On Tuesday, Schiano said he was "absolutely not" the source of confidential information leaked to the media about Freeman's participation in Stage 1 of the program and resented the accusation.
Later that afternoon, NFL players union executive director DeMaurice Smith said he is sufficiently concerned about hearsay evidence that the Bucs might have leaked the confidential information to begin a joint investigation with the league.
Since the start of the season, the Bucs fined Freeman more than $30,000 for various infractions, including missing the team breakfast and being late to the bus in the season opener against the Jets at the Meadowlands on Sept. 8. An unauthorized interview on ESPN aired Sunday and earned Freeman a fine of about $10,000.
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For Freeman, it's a career that began with much promise but has dissolved into mediocrity.
The former Kansas State star looked to be among the league's bright young quarterbacks when he led the Bucs to a 10-6 record in 2010, his first full season as a starter, throwing 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. The next season, the Bucs started 4-2 before losing 10 straight under coach Raheem Morris, who was fired at the end of the season.
In his first year under Schiano, Freeman set club records for passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27). He leaves the Bucs with club marks for career touchdowns (80) and completions (1,144) and is second in passing yards (13,534).
"The one thing I've been able to do is go into very, very bad situations and turn them around," Schiano said.
"This place needs Greg Schiano. And we're going to win."