The Josh Johnson Dilemma

This will be Josh Johnson's last season in Tampa.
This will be Josh Johnson's last season in Tampa. /
This will be Josh Johnson's last season in Tampa.
This will be Josh Johnson's last season in Tampa. /

The Bucs would love to trade Josh Johnson. That’s not to say the brass in Tampa doesn’t appreciate the 25 year-old quarterback, but Johnson will be something of a commodity when he reaches free agency next spring, and the Bucs will have to watch him walk away with nothing to show for it. They’d much rather get an offer for a mid-to-late round draft pick and get something in exchange for the talented young passer.

Bucs fans really only got to see Johnson in action for the first part of 2009, after which he was replaced by Josh Freeman and ultimately found his path to being a starter in Tampa completely blocked because of the the emergence of Freeman. But let’s be honest, that sample size isn’t fair, Johnson was overmatched and under-supported. He certainly isn’t Josh Freeman, but he’s far better than his stats would indicate too.

When Johnson came out of college, he was by and far the most athletic quarterback in the 2008 class. Johnson has 4.5 speed, he has an extremely lively arm and he can hurt defenses with both. The knock on him was he just needed more polish, needed to learn the nuances of the position and how to be effective at an NFL level. Don’t think for a second that Alex Van Pelt and Greg Olson haven’t been working on Johnson for the last two years, developing the young man as a quarterback.

You can see flashes of his potential whenever he gets into games. He was 14-16 for 111 yards in very limited action last season, then in the preseason opener he was 7-12 for 108 yards and touchdown. He also ran five times for 57 yards. Expect to see a lot of Josh Johnson in the preseason, the Bucs don’t want Josh Freeman to get banged around and they’d like to showcase Johnson on the chance they may get an offer from another team.

For now though, expect Johnson to be Josh Freeman’s back-up in what will be his last year in Tampa. Josh Johnson will be competing for a starting spot next year. Unfortunately he can’t even contribute in Tampa, Josh Freeman is too good to take off the field, otherwise he could see time as a Wildcat triggerman. Wherever Johnson goes next, will no doubt employ some variation of that formation.

Josh Freeman is not going to be supplanted in Tampa.
Josh Freeman is not going to be supplanted in Tampa. /

Josh Freeman is not an ideal wildcat trigger-man, he can run well but he’s not exactly dynamic in that regard. Not to mention it would be very risky to let him take that kind of punishment. Over the past three seasons, the best triggerman to run the Wildcat has been Ronnie Brown, now of the Eagles. Brown was never the best weapon to run that formation though, he was just the best at it. The reason the Dolphins failed to evolve that formation is that they drafted a guy to be that weapon, and he didn’t pan out. Pat White was supposed to be the player that really brought the wildcat into a new dimension in Miami, unfortunately he quit after one unsuccessful season.

Josh Johnson is bigger, stronger and faster than Pat White was, he also has a better arm. He can really run and be dynamic in the open field but he can also wing a ball 50 yards so you have to honor the pass too. Essentially Josh Johnson is the kind of player who can really unlock that package and put defenses on the spot every time a team runs it. He could add a dimension to the Buccaneer offense that almost no other team could match, and most scout teams can’t even emulate (do most teams have a 6’3 205 lb. guy with 4.5 speed and a cannon?).

But chances are it’s a wrinkle that will never see much time in Tampa. Josh Freeman may be the first franchise quarterback in Buccaneer history. It truly is the right decision to never take him off the field and mess with his rhythm, he’s earned that right. But man, when Josh Johnson leaves Tampa next season to find a team with a starting job he can compete for, arguably the best backup QB (certainly the most athletic) in the NFL will be walking out the door. The Bucs will get nothing in return for him. And they won’t even have begun to scratch the surface of his potential.

That’s not a slight at the Buccaneers either. Oftentimes good teams have good players that just simply can’t get on the field because they’re behind better players. It’s why guys like Ted Larsen end up getting cut by the Patriots and then can start half a season for another team. In Josh Johnson’s case a good player is stuck behind a better one and some other NFL team will profit off that.

All things considered, that’s not a bad problem to have…