It became apparent earlier this off-season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that the franchise wouldn’t be extending the contract of starting quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman is entering the final season of his rookie contract and is coming off of a statistically improved season. Despite his production on the field however, Freeman hasn’t developed in the way the franchise was hoping when it comes to his individual performance. Couple that with the fact that the team has hired a new head coach since he was drafted back in 2009, and Freeman’s future in Tampa Bay is by no means certain.
While it appears that Freeman will play out his final season looking to earn that long-term contract, the possibility remains that Freeman could be traded prior to the 2013 season beginning. If that trade is to happen, it must happen soon. Greg Schiano isn’t the type of coach to hesitate or settle for anything less than what gives his team the best chance to win, while general manager Mark Dominik showed last off-season that he is not afraid of being aggressive with his personnel. If Schiano decides that Freeman is not his starter moving forward, then the Buccaneers will need to immediately replace him through free agency, a trade or in the draft.
Without an Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or even a Ryan Tannehill leading this year’s crop of quarterbacks in the draft, there is a market for a young quarterback who has already shown promise at the professional level. Teams can always hope to find the next Russell Wilson, but there is very little certainty when it comes to the draft, especially after the first round. The proposition of taking on Freeman and working to develop him in potentially a better situation would be appealing to many coaches across the league. Even more so than taking on an Alex Smith or Matt Flynn who offer even less certainty and less potential.
At this point, the Buccaneers don’t figure to compete in the NFC South next season. They have many talented pieces, but the strength of the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers pave a difficult path to the playoffs, while their defense as a whole was seriously troublesome last year. Having hired Greg Schiano last season, the Buccaneers accepted that their franchise needed to reboot somewhat. Even though there were signs of promise last year, the reality is that this is still an ongoing rebuild that needs to establish a long-term goal and continue to develop in that direction.
Should the Buccaneers trade Freeman, they could expect decent compensation from a team such as the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have the seventh overall pick in the draft, meaning that they also hold the 39th overall pick in the second round. Considering his career so far, the Buccaneers can’t expect to get the Cardinals’ seventh overall pick, but they could potentially pry away the 39th overall choice as well as asking for an early fourth round selection. Considering the number of potential free agent quarterbacks the Buccaneers could acquire, or even ones who could come cheap in trades, the Cardinals wouldn’t even be forced to use those extra choices on a new signal-caller. Instead of spending those picks on a new quarterback, they could continue to collect young talent throughout the roster, something they have been doing a lot of in recent years.
Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco‘s presence in this year’s Super Bowl shows that you don’t need to have a top 10 pick or stick with a former first round draft pick to make the biggest stage.
On the other side of the deal, the Cardinals would finally be getting a quarterback who is at least capable of consistently contributing to their offense. More importantly, they would be getting a quarterback who fits the mold of talent that Bruce Arians wants, something that none of Kevin Kolb, John Skelton or Ryan Lindley offer. Freeman could fit with Arians in the same way that Ben Roethlisberger did in Pittsburgh. Both are mobile, athletic quarterbacks with big arms who can consistently evade pass rushers despite playing behind a poor offensive line. Arians could offer Freeman the coaching he hasn’t enjoyed in Tampa Bay, while Freeman could offer the Cardinals a fit on offense who can get the best out of Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald doesn’t need much.
With Fitzgerald and Arians in Arizona, not to mention Andre Roberts and a potentially healthy Ryan Williams, Freeman would have a decent supporting cast to work with in Arizona. Not as good as what he has in Tampa Bay, but enough to complement a much better defense. In 2012, the 25-year-old quarterback had 17 interceptions and 10 fumbles. Those kinds of turnovers kill an offense’s production and often lose games for the whole team. That is, unless the offense is complemented by one of the best defenses in the league. The Cardinals don’t need a high-powered offense, they need consistent production. Just enough to keep their defense from losing all motivation as their efforts are negated by factors out of their control.
Trading Freeman may be bold, but the line between bold and brilliant is often non-existent.