Josh Freeman was benched today by Coach Greg Schiano, a move that has been coming for a long time. Freeman and Schiano have not clicked from the start, and after a rough close to 2012, Schiano was looking for a reason to replace him. The head coach got his guy in the draft, Mike Glennon of N.C. State, in the third round.
Freeman is completing less than half his passes this year, after completing just 54.8% a year ago. Time flies in the NFL, so it may be difficult to remember that Freeman completed over 60% two straight years at age 22 and 23, at a time when many quarterbacks are still in college.
At age 22, Freeman had that 25 touchdown, 6 interception year when Tampa Bay went 10-6. That season puts him in pretty elite company. That year, Freeman was average or better in all the key indicators: yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdown rate, interception rate, and sack rate. The only other guys to do that in a season by age 24: Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar, Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Brett Favre, Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford. The only one who moved on from his team at a similar age was Cutler, in another notable new coach wants his guy scenario. Hopefully, for Schiano, his judgment is better than that of Josh McDaniels.
Obviously, things have gone downhill with Freeman after Schiano’s arrival, which is why he is potentially available now. Teams don’t make Peyton Manning or John Elway available entering their primes.
Still, here is a list of the most comparable quarterbacks through age 24, using league-adjusted numbers (so that things like completion percentage and dropping interception rates are accounted for). This similarity score compares all quarterbacks who had 750 or more passes, in league adjusted score for the key categories. In essence, I’m not just looking at overall numbers, but also how they got there–those most similar in completion percentage, sack rate, etc.
It’s interesting that another player from the same draft class shows up as most similar. Their numbers are almost identical entering this year: 59.8% vs. 58.% completions, 6.9 yards per attempt for each, 80 TD’s for Stafford and 78 for Freeman. Stafford just signed a $53 million dollar extension; Freeman is available for inquiry. There is an arbitrage opportunity here.
Obviously, the concern is what is going on in Tampa Bay and why Freeman has regressed. I’m sure that the blame falls on both parties. The relationship seems to have been sliding for a while, and Freeman is not playing well. He also, in my opinion, played better than his numbers and the results from this past weekend. I see a guy worth taking a chance on.
I can count on more than one hand the times the announcer noted a great throw by Freeman, several of which were not caught. While his accuracy can improve with more consistent mechanics, I also think he is going to be a 60%-65% completion guy. I saw some off target throws, but what I saw more was a lack of easy throws and a high percentage of deep throws that required perfection. Whether that is offensive design or Freeman or both, it is something that can change. I see no reason why he won’t get back to where he was a few years ago.
In the first quarter, he started 6 for 9, and that included a drop on a slant by Vincent Jackson, before the missed field goal. It also included a play I hesitate to fully call a drop on Doug Martin because the throw should have been better, but it was “catchable.”
After that, he threw this pass on third down:
I mean, that’s a tough catch, but with Vince Wilfork charging at him, he threw his receiver open to the back corner and gave him a chance. (As an aside, this play was listed as incomplete short left in the play by play).
In the second quarter, Tampa Bay faced a 3rd and 1 in New England territory, and went aggressive with vertical routes. Here was the result:
Doug Martin was stuffed on 4th and 1 on the very next play. How different is the game (and Freeman’s performance on paper) if that is caught? That is the kind of throw that tells me he is worth the risk at the right price.
Later, he threw an interception right before the half. I think it is a microcosm of the Schiano-Freeman disconnect. It was a bad pass, but also a pretty unfair and ridiculous situation. With :47 left in the half after a touchback, they ran a draw to Martin for 5 yards. Twenty-five seconds elapsed before the next play. Either you run the draw (hate it, but that’s a different rant) and if it doesn’t break for a 10 yard gain, you take the time and don’t give the ball back, or you go aggressive. Instead, Tampa picked up the first down and called timeout with :17 left. They were roughly 40 yards from a field goal, and you call timeout. What’s the message? Quarterback needs to push it downfield because you have taken :30 to move 11 yards. Freeman threw a deep out to Jackson, it was undercut by Talib, and the Patriots had two timeouts and ran two quick plays to set up a 53-yard field goal.
The second half started poorly. Then Vincent Jackson left with an injury, and you could see the impact. Kevin Ogletree was a frequent target on deep throws. A third and fourth down and 13 yards to go saw very similar routes thrown to Ogletree incomplete – one knocked away and one he could have caught.
Regardless of the reasons, though, it’s time to move on. Whereas Cutler cost multiple first round picks, Freeman won’t come with as high a price tag. Next year is perceived as a good quarterback draft right now, so Freeman can be had, because the demand won’t be there as teams dream of the young star. A prudent organization would make a move and see if they could get him for a mid-round pick. I actually think it would be a great idea for an organization like Pittsburgh, where Roethlisberger is frequently injured and beat up, to consider seeing if the price is right. Freeman could sit for a year, and the organization could see how Big Ben ages and whether they want to pay the high price for him going forward.
I don’t think Freeman is going to be Dan Marino or Peyton Manning or anything in that class. Could he be Eli Manning or Joe Flacco, though, from ages 26 to 30? Absolutely.
Related: Josh Freeman Benched For Mike Glennon: Panic Move by Greg Schiano?
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Related: Josh Freeman Cannot Play, Says Fran Tarkenton
Related: Josh Freeman to Vincent Jackson to Send Bucs-Panthers to Overtime