Josh Freeman is still a young man compared to many of his peers. At only 24 years old, he is just a year older than Landry Jones, who is still playing college football at Oklahoma! In his 24 years, Freeman has managed to play in 56 Buccaneers games, and for a while was largely considered to be the future of the franchise. The past few weeks have called into doubt his potential, and so it brings up the discussion…
Is it time to give up hope in Josh Freeman?
First, let’s consider the facts. Josh Freeman had never had a stretch of 4 games with a passer rating lower than 80 in his career until the past month, where he failed to break 80 in any of the last four games. His 8 interceptions in two games is something he’s not experienced since consecutive games against the Panthers and Jets in 2009, his first year starting games in the NFL. Since then, Freeman had never had more than 7 interceptions in any three game span! Every one of his last 4 games has ended with a completion percentage below his career average, and of course, each game has resulted in a loss.
Of course, Freeman did have the best stretch of his career earlier this season, posing a five game stretch of QB Ratings higher than 104. He had never had a similar streak, and at that point Freeman was nudging his way into “elite” quarterback discussions, despite being just a few weeks removed from going 10 of 28 for 110 yards against the Cowboys. Freeman’s opposition during his five game streak of successes is as follows: Chiefs, Saints, Vikings, Raiders, Chargers. The Chiefs, Saints, and Raiders are in the top 5 of worst defenses when considering QB Rating, and the Chargers and Vikings are in the top 15. The Raiders and Vikings are among the 10 worst at giving up completions, both allowing over 63% completion percentage this season. In other words, Josh was able to built up some momentum feasting upon weak defenses, and then was slapped with a reality check against the Panthers and Broncos. He was solid against the Falcons in the week between these two games, but it was clearly the end of his successful run, and the second half of the Broncos game would prove to be the start of a landslide. Freeman has been throwing off of his back foot, making terrible decisions, and acting out in frustration since the losing streak began, and his performance is a key as to why the Buccaneers have struggled.
So the question we return to is: Is it time to abandon hope on Josh Freeman? I think we should take a look at other quarterbacks who Josh should aspire to be like, and see how they were doing around their 55th games in the league. This will give us a basis for comparison, and while the Buccaneers situation this year is different than the circumstances these other players were experiencing, we can take situation and statistics into consideration when looking at a few different quarterbacks.
Compare and Contrast
Let’s start with Ben Roethlisberger. A player of similar size and strength, Big Ben was the main comparison for Josh Freeman draft profiles: A big, strong, hard-to-bring-down quarterback with good arm strength. Ben entered a much better situation in Pittsburgh, with an all-world defense and a solid management structure. So admittedly, Roethlisberger was put into a better position to succeed, but just how much better was he doing after 56 games?
Big Ben was approaching 56 games player near the end of 2007. The 2007 season was a moderate success for the Steelers, improving on the previous season’s record and finishing 10-6, first in their division, and earning a playoff berth. They would lose their opening round game to the Jaguars, but the season was still quite respectable. Big Ben was on fire this season, besting a 90 QB Rating 9 times, and never falling below 72 all season long. He would finish with 32 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions in 15 starts. Ben had some talent around him on offense, most notably Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes at wideout. An offensive line anchored by All-Pro Alan Faneca certainly helped, and is one obvious difference between the ’07 Steelers and ’12 Buccaneers. But the difference in Big Ben’s 2007 season and Josh Freeman’s 2012 season is vast.
So let’s consider some different quarterbacks that are in more similar situations to Freeman. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. uses a grading scale to assign a “Madden” like value to every player. Josh Freeman is currently ranked as a 77, tied with Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer. It would be unfair to compare Free to Palmer, as Palmer was in the prime of his career 56 games in, and was a fantastic quarterback at that time, far better than Freeman is now. Bradford is only 40 games into his NFL career, but is having a slightly better season than Freeman. However, Bradford did come into the league with higher expectations, so Rams fans may have the same discussion about Mr. Bradford in a year or two if he cannot “take the next step.”
While it is certainly depressing to consider that Freeman is behind Carson Palmer and Sam Bradford as things stand currently, let’s take a look at another player that Scouts Inc has deemed to be similar to Josh Freeman, Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck was playing in his 56th game during the 2004 season as the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, and his numbers are incredibly similar to those Josh Freeman is posting this season. Matt had a 58.9% completion percentage, 3382 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2004. Compare that to Freeman’s 54.9% completion percentage, 3843 yards, 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2012. The QB Ratings are also similar, both in the low 80’s. According to Pro Football Reference, after four seasons, Matt Hasselbeck was most similar to Brad Johnson, Chad Pennington, Trent Green, Bubby Bister, and Jeff Blake. This is not the kind of company that you want a quarterback to be in. After his full career, which is now essentially over, Hasselbeck has career comparisons to Jake Plummer, Jeff Blake, Jim Zorn, Jon Kitna, and Archie Manning. Looking forward, is this the kind of player you want quarterbacking the Buccaneers?
Hasselbeck was able to guide the Seahawks to a Super Bowl at age 30, posting his best year in the NFL by a wide margin, and aided by the outstanding running of Shaun Alexander, who tallied over 1800 yards that season with 28 total touchdowns. It is safe to say that Hasselbeck was in a fantastic situation that season, and combined that with personal bests at the quarterback position, to lead his team to a Super Bowl berth. They would lose to the aforementioned Big Ben who, despite having a terrible game in the Super Bowl, did enough to lead his team to a win. Over his career in Seattle, he went to 3 Pro Bowls, was barely over a .500 winning percentage, and was 5-6 in playoff games. In other words, Matt Hasselbeck, a 6th round pick out of Boston College, went on to beat expectations and be a slightly above average NFL quarterback who was able to post a few fantastic years surrounded by great offenses under a genius coach, Mike Holmgren.
And to be honest, I don’t think Josh is trending in the right direction to match any of Hasselbeck’s accomplishments. Hasselbeck was always more accurate than Freeman, and accuracy is something that will likely never improve for the Bucs quarterback. Freeman started off on the right foot, having a fantastic second season in the NFL. Since then, he has proven to be more and more inconsistent, showing flashes of his promised potential, and then moments of incompetence, leading Buccaneers fans to wonder if they have a Rex Grossman type of quarterback leading their offense. Hasselbeck did not post 3-4 game stretches of poor play at any time between his second season as a starter and last two seasons in Seattle, when his team started to lose the talent and coaching advantages it once held and Hasselbeck’s increased age led to health concerns and a lack of sharpness. However, Hasselbeck was able to make a comeback with the Titans in 2011, and posted a season of numbers that most Buccaneers fans would be happy with from Josh Freeman. The 36 year old Hasselbeck limited turnovers, posted a 61.6% completion percentage, and had over 3500 yards despite missing game time during the season due to injuries. His 6 games with a QB Rating over 95 are the same as what Josh has posted in 2012, and his “bad” games were similar in number as well, with multiple games below 55.
The question then becomes, with Josh Freeman approaching a contract year, do the Buccaneers want to pay a premium to keep a quarterback who is, if everything goes as planned, likely to be the bigger, stronger equivalent of Matt Hasselbeck? If Freeman is able to return to the form he showed in 2010, he is still no better than Hasselbeck was in 2005 when he steered the Shaun Alexander-led Seahawks to a Super Bowl defeat. If Freeman never returns to being that player again, then the Buccaneers would be paying for a player more like Rex Grossman or Mark Sanchez.
I completely understand that Josh Freeman is still young, but age can be deceiving in an era of players leaving early from college. Josh Freeman has played in 56 NFL games, and has shown to grow only in inconsistency as the games have gone by. I don’t think that Josh Freeman is a sound investment for the Buccaneers future, because there have been no signs that this is a player who is capable of being more than a slightly above average quarterback (and may never be able to consistently reach this potential). And with the current state of the Buccaneers franchise, with the offense being called upon to carry a porous defense, the quarterback position is going to be very important for Tampa Bay’s success. That’s why I will go on the record as saying that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should consider moving on from the “Josh Freeman” era, and consider other options. Freeman is not the only one struggling this season, and the lack of an offensive line over the past few games has certainly affected the quarterback, but the trend for Freeman over the past two seasons is that he is not consistent, and does not cope with failures and mistakes well. Lately, his visible displays of displeasure after poorly run plays have become more frequent, which to me reveals an underlying problem with either confidence in himself, or possibly worse, a failure to accept responsibility for poorly executed plays. Freeman knows all the right words to say to the press, and will likely accept the blame for his performance against the Rams, but on the field, is the Bucs gunslinger thinking something completely different? I said in my first article on Josh that he would need to be put into better situations to succeed, and to channel his frustrations into improved play rather than allowing the wheels to fall off. Freeman has shown us in the St. Louis game that he remains unable to cope with frustrating situations, and that the clutch, poised game leader we saw in his many late game comebacks can just as easily be replaced with a reckless, inaccurate passer who is unable to consistently make good throws.
I am not sure when the right time to move on from Freeman is, but I am sure that I would like to see the Buccaneers pursue other options at the position. This year’s NFL draft does not contain a treasure trove of quarterback talent, but a player like Matt Barkley will more than likely be a franchise quarterback, who makes periodic Pro Bowls and, more importantly, shows poise, leadership, and consistent play. Personally, I would much rather have a more consistent, boring, lackluster quarterback like Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer used to be. The Buccaneers front office owes it to the fans to explore other options, and at least find a way to bring in a player to compete with Freeman next season, otherwise the Kansas State product could continue on his roller coaster ride of inconsistent quarterback play, and bring the franchise and fans on the same ride with him. I am hesitant to say that he MUST go right away, but I do believe that blindly following him as a franchise quarterback would be foolish considering the evidence we’ve been provided. The question becomes, do you want a less consistent version of Matt Hasselbeck, or would you prefer something else (considering the available options, as well)? That’s the question that the Buccaneers should ask themselves this offseason. As of right now, I’m inclined to answer “no.”
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