Josh Freeman is worth a flier
In a free-agent market that is predictably light on quarterbacks, Josh Freeman better be ready to make the best decision of his brief career.
When we last saw him, he was failing miserably for the Minnesota Vikings in a Monday night loss to the New York Giants. Before that, he was trying to rehabilitate his image after a Year 1 feud with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, a battle that ended with Freeman released and Schiano eventually fired.
Now Freeman is hoping for a fresh start with a more supportive franchise, and it says here that there is still reason to believe in him.
For all the slights that have been hurled at Freeman in recent months -- and he's been alleged to be both lazy and immature, among other things -- this much we do know to be true: He still has several qualities that teams covet in big-time NFL quarterbacks.
He's the right age (he turned 26 in January). He has the rocket arm, the requisite mobility and four seasons of experience as a starter. Freeman also should have a good idea of exactly what is needed to resuscitate his career. If he can't find redemption at his next stop, he has little chance of finding another team willing to take a shot on him.
This is why the people close to Freeman already are setting their sights on logical landing spots. The most obvious is Oakland, where Freeman could reconnect with current Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson, the same assistant coach who helped Freeman enjoy his best year as a pro in Tampa.
Freeman has been bashed so much lately that it's easy to forget what he did in his second season as a starter with the Bucs. Along with producing numbers strong enough to make him a Pro Bowl alternate -- a 61.4 completion percentage, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions -- he helped the Bucs win 10 games that season.
You don't put up those types of numbers if you don't have talent. What Freeman needed then was the same thing Olson could provide in Oakland. Trust. Structure. Guidance. Given the current personnel at the position -- Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin -- it wouldn't be a crazy move for the Raiders to see what Freeman could offer, even if they decide to select a quarterback in this year's draft class.
Such a signing makes even more sense for Freeman because he's at a place in his career where the wrong move could lead to him carrying clipboards for the remainder of his playing days. After all, Vince Young was once a rising star with the Tennessee Titans until that franchise gave up on him after the 2010 season. He bounced from Philadelphia to Buffalo to Green Bay in the succeeding years. Never did he find another team that saw him as a long-term fit, and he spent the last two regular seasons watching the NFL from the comfort of his couch.
If Freeman wants to find a better example of how his career could rebound, he should look no further than his hometown of Kansas City, where the Chiefs' Alex Smith makes his living. There are few quarterbacks in recent history who have endured as much abuse -- both physically and mentally -- than Smith did in San Francisco without vanishing from the league altogether.
He managed to change his fortunes by working at his craft and finding a coach in the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh who could help him prosper in 2011. When Harbaugh decided Colin Kaepernick could lead the 49ers to bigger things a year later, Kansas City saw the same positives in Smith and engineered a trade for him last offseason.
The problem Freeman faces is that it's hard to find the right franchise when a quarterback is considered damaged goods. As much sense as the Raiders make for Freeman, there are still other issues surrounding that organization that could impact its willingness to offer him a shot.
If coach Dennis Allen can't find a way to produce a winning season after two consecutive losing campaigns, he's likely going to be looking for a new job in 2015. General manager Reggie McKenzie also has to be feeling the pressure to jump-start an organization that has been wallowing for more than a decade.
Another factor impacting Freeman is this year's draft class. Houston, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland all might take a quarterback with high picks in May. That means Freeman would have to wait to see where and how he would fit with a franchise looking to groom a younger signal-caller. It's doubtful Freeman would want to take that kind of job -- where he would be a stand-in for an eventual starter -- when he still has a few years to go before his 30th birthday.
The only other interesting possibility that has been floated at his point is the Arizona Cardinals. Current starter Carson Palmer turns 35 in December and coach Bruce Arians also knows a few things about grooming quarterbacks. But that also would mean Freeman certainly would have to sit and wait for Palmer's time to end there. That's a big gamble when considering that Arizona became one of the most surprising teams of last season. Playing for an up-and-coming squad that won 10 games in 2013 could be just the thing to keep Palmer in uniform a lot longer.
So that leads us right back to Oakland. Along with needing a team with coaches who understand his skills, Freeman could benefit from being around an offensive coordinator who understands his personality. Olson knew how to motivate a quarterback who is mellow in nature, and he'll also have the personal experience that should enable him to see beyond the character questions that plagued Freeman at the end of his time in Tampa. Sometimes, all a player needs is somebody who knows what's in his head and his heart.
Those ultimately are the biggest things Freeman needs as he starts his march back toward respectability. We've seen other quarterbacks manage improbable comebacks in recent memory -- Kurt Warner, Kerry Collins and Michael Vick come to my mind -- so it's not like Freeman doesn't have other examples for motivation.
The real issue here is whether he can do exactly what those players did when their own careers were at a similarly critical juncture. If he can find the right fit in the coming months, he'll have us all wondering how he fell so far in the first place.