Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Free To Go: Quarterback Alternatives for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This week, many Buccaneers fans have boiled over, and the love for Josh Freeman has evaporated, leaving only distrust and disgust. Twitter, blogs, and talk shows are buzzing with talk about the future of the franchise under Freeman, and the commentary varies from “Let’s see how good Orlovsky is” to “Well, I think you have to give him another year”.  The reality of the situation is likely closer to the latter, but with a new coaching staff, there is certainly the possibility of trading or otherwise removing Josh from the roster, allowing the possibility of a return on investment before his contract expires at the end of the 2013-2014 season. His salary cap number only increases next season, and if the franchise is ready to move on without him, it may be best to take the Carmelo Anthony approach, and trade him while you still can. So what direction do the Buccaneers go if they get rid of Freeman? Let’s get one thing straight:

Dan Orlovsky will NOT be the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next season. If he starts any games, it is out of necessity, and not out of merit.

This may seem obvious to most of our readers, and I would give you all a pat on the back for understanding that Orlovsky is a truly woeful passer. However, a local call-in show following the Saints debacle featured a caller who said the Buccaneers should give Orlovsky a shot, because “Washington won with their backup quarterback, so we should give him a chance”. I don’t believe any further discussion is needed here, except to remind everyone who Dan Orlovsky is. The self-safety is one of the most memorable moments in football folly history.

Moving on to real NFL quarterbacks, let’s consider the options the Buccaneers would have if the quarterback position has an opening in 2013.  Starting with…

Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens-

Flacco is the best free agent option this offseason at the quarterback position, and it’s not even close. The former Delaware Blue Hen has the arm skills and the size to be a true pocket passer who can command an NFL offense and “make all the throws”, and he has plenty of winning experience, winning more games over the last handful of seasons than any other NFL quarterback.  For his career, he has completed over 60 percent of his passes, and has 100 touchdowns to 56 interceptions in 4 full seasons, and the 14 games of this current NFL season. This translates to a QB Rating just over 5 points better than Josh Freeman’s over the span of the players’ careers. Flacco would bring increased arm strength and accuracy, at the expense of athleticism, although Flacco is certainly not a statue in the pocket. Flacco will be 28 by the time the 2013 NFL season kicks off, and while he has not been in the NFL for that long, Flacco should not be viewed as a young player with potential, but rather as a quarterback who is reaching the peak of his athletic ability, and must continue to grow mentally as a quarterback as his physical skills eventually begin to decline. Furthermore, Flacco has shown inconsistency and “streakiness” over the course of his career, and the hope for whoever he signs with is that maturity will bring about a more level standard of performance from the quarterback.

My thoughts on Flacco? I’d much rather have him than Freeman, but I am not sure the difference between the two is big enough to merit the paycheck Mr. Flacco will demand this offseason. As the primary quarterback on the open market in 2013, Flacco is guaranteed a massive contract, and I’m not convinced enough to open my hypothetical checkbook and dole out my fan dollars to Joe. However, if by some twist of fate, Joe Flacco is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in 2013, I won’t be disappointed.

Other Free Agent Options (Get ready guys and gals, this is quite the list!):

Derek Anderson, Jason Campbell, David Carr, Bruce Gradkowski, Rex Grossman, Tavaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, both McCown’s, Brady Quinn, Matt Moore, Drew Stanton, and former Coastal Carolina Chanticleer Tyler Thigpen. Thanks to KFFL for the list.

Of this list, there are a couple of names that intrigue me, but only in a situation where there are coaches in place to help bring the QB back from irrelevance. Carr, Grossman, Jackson, Moore, and Leinart stand out as players who could certainly make an impact in the NFL in the right situation, but the Buccaneers in 2013 are unlikely to be that situation.

With a distinct lack of quarterback options on the free agent market, the Buccaneers would have to turn to the draft or a trade for their starting quarterback in 2013 if Josh Freeman is moved to another team.  I don’t believe that any of the quaterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft are worthy of being a day one starter for a team that, under the right circumstances, could challenge for a wild card position. With the Buccaneers in that hopeful position next season, we’ll save the draftable quarterback discussion for the offseason.

That leaves trade options, and there are certainly a few options for the Buccaneers to consider. Let’s take a look at a couple of the passers that might be passed along by their respective teams.

Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers-

I know I gave Joe Flacco a nice profile, and gave him serious consideration. I won’t do the same for Smith. He is in a perfect situation in San Francisco, and presents no upgrade from Josh Freeman. He is older, has been hit more often, and lacks the dynamic playmaking ability Freeman possesses. Smith is a perfect candidate for a place like Arizona, who will be desperate for a quarterback this offseason. The Buccaneers will not be desperate, and should therefore avoid making a lateral (at best) move for Smith.

Phillip Rivers, San Diego Chargers-

Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Chargers will be cleaning house this offseason, with Norv Turner and AJ Smith on their way out, and Rivers may join them in the San Diego exodus. Rivers is already in his 30’s, and while this means he is the oldest of the options presented, he also has the best track record. Rivers posted 3 straight years of 4000+ passing yards combined with 100+ QB Ratings in 2008-2010, and his numbers have declined with the corresponding decline in talent around him. Vincent Jackson and LaDanian Tomlinson have been replaced with Danario Alexander and Ryan Matthews, and Rivers has felt the effects.

However, I believe that Rivers would be a fantastic acquisition for the Buccaneers, and while I have absolutely no idea if he would be available this offseason, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Should whispers of his availability begin, the Buccaneers should be prepared to enter those discussions, as he is a true franchise quarterback, who is a clear tier above Flacco and Freeman, and likely two tiers ahead of Smith. This could just be meaningless blog fodder, but if the new San Diego regime wants a clean start, Tampa Bay would be wise to consider taking the former NC State gunslinger off of the Chargers’ hands.

Of course, there are certainly plenty of possibilities that may present themselves between now and opening day 2013, but at the moment, it appears there is a shortage of true options for the Buccaneers to replace Josh Freeman. While I certainly believe that the future of the Buccaneers likely will rest in the hands of a different quarterback, I don’t believe 2013 will be the season to make the change.

The next two weeks may make or break the fanbase and team’s belief in Josh Freeman. The options to replace him, however, remain just about the same, so consider the outcome if you cry for revolution. Sometimes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

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