Now that the train carrying Josh Freeman has left the station in Tampa, Freeman's phone should be ringing quite soon and somewhat frequently. The last few weeks of his tenure with the Buccaneers was a disaster all the way around -- you can read all about it here -- but because he's got first-round talent and because he's had success in the league, Freeman could upgrade a number of teams in the quarterbacking department.
But Freeman also has to rebuild his reputation, especially after it's been revealed in the last few weeks that he overslept for a team photo and that he's been late for team meetings. No matter the talent he has, teams will be wary of signing him to a long-term deal if they feel like he's immature and untrustworthy.
Yet, because the Buccaneers have to pay him the rest of his $8.6 million salary, there will be an opportunity for an enterprising franchise to get Freeman for cheap for the final 12 games of the season and see if he's good enough to risk a multi-year investment in a new organization. Others have suggested that Freeman would do well to sign with a team that has a well-established quarterback (the Packers, for instance) in order to sit and learn. I think Freeman would be OK getting a starting spot right now, potentially helping his spiraling reputation in a matter of weeks.
There are two teams in the league that should immediately try to sign Freeman, and there are three that should strongly consider it.
Here are the two teams that should be calling Freeman's agent at this very moment.
Jaguars: The reasons why are obvious. It's clear that Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne aren't the quarterbacks of the future in Jacksonville, and with the team already planning for the future (trading its left tackle in Eugene Monroe for draft picks), it'd make sense to see if Freeman -- who's still only 25 years old, mind you -- can succeed where Gabbert and Henne haven't. The question Jacksonville must ask is whether Freeman is better than a potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. At least with Freeman, you know he's NFL ready. I think you give him a shot in Jacksonville and see if he can immediately upgrade the team. Then, if you want to draft a quarterback early next year, you can still do it.
Vikings: In the same vein as Gabbert and Henne, Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder hasn't done enough during his career to convince me that he is the long-term answer. Yes, the team made the playoffs last season, but it's off to a 1-3 start this year, and the only win came when Matt Cassel was running the team. So far, Ponder's touchdown-to-interception ratio (2-to-5) and quarterback rating (65.9) are the worst in his short career. But remember, his rookie season in 2010 was awfully unimpressive, and he doesn't seem to be much, if any, better right now. The Vikings still could be in play for a potential playoff run, but it probably won't happen with Ponder running the team.
Here are the three teams that should strongly consider Freeman:
Bengals: After watching Cincinnati lose a playoff game to Houston for the second-straight season last year, I wrote that Andy Dalton should have been playing better at that point in his career. “Head coach Marvin Lewis is secure in his job for now. But if they don't truly improve next season, maybe Dalton and [offensive coordinator Jay] Gruden shouldn't feel so comfortable in theirs,” I wrote. Lewis has said that Dalton is still the team's franchise quarterback, but Dalton continues to play underwhelming football. I'm not saying that Freeman should come in and replace Dalton. But maybe you bring him in to make Dalton think hard about his Bengals future. Maybe a threat like Freeman would help Dalton become the quarterback the team believed he could be in the first place.
Browns: The team already has determined that Brandon Weeden is not its guy anymore, replacing him with Brian Hoyer and then keeping him in that starting spot even after Weeden's thumb returned to health. But is Hoyer really the quarterback that can lead Cleveland to actually compete for an AFC North title? If the last two games are any indication, then yeah, you could make the argument that Hoyer could be that guy. But his resume is too thin to know for sure. Freeman hasn't led his team to the postseason either, but his resume (both good and bad) is thicker. If you're a Browns fan and I asked you if you'd rather have Hoyer or Freeman quarterbacking your team, which guy would you pick? I believe I'd go with the latter.
Rams: Sam Bradford is another one of those first-round quarterbacks of recent times that simply hasn't translated into a top-10 player at his position. The first few years, you could chalk up his struggles to a lack of offensive weapons. That was a legit criticism of those St. Louis squads. But in the past few years, the team has signed Jared Cook and Jake Long in free agency and drafted Tavon Austin, Brian Quick and Chris Givens. At this point in his career and for the amount of money he's been paid, Bradford should be better. If the Rams think this version of Bradford is who he'll always be, they perhaps should bring in Freeman and see if he can wrestle away the starting position. Because how many more chances do you give Bradford before you have to say that you've seen enough?
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