With his contract expiring at the end of this season, and the Buccaneers using a third-round pick on Mike Glennon, all signs pointed to this being a make-or-break year for Josh Freeman. Week 2 has not even arrived yet, and the situation may have broken already.
And the future for head coach Greg Schiano hardly looks much rosier, based on recent reports out of Tampa Bay.
Mike Florio reported Wednesday that the Buccaneers had held a players-only meeting following an 18-17 loss to the Jets on Sunday. He later amended that report to clarify, via sources, that the meeting had occurred prior to that game. The need for a closed-door meeting following a Week 1 loss would have hinted at some major underlying issues in the locker; a pre-Week 1 session is an even more alarming red flag.
Part of that meeting, per Florio, "included the raising of concerns regarding the legitimacy of the vote that resulted in ... Freeman losing the captain’s 'C' from his jersey."
Freeman had been a Bucs captain from 2010-12, after starting nine games as a rookie in '09. That he lost the honor headed into this season was a rather surprising turn of events.
"I know one thing, Josh is going to lead. Josh is a leader, so I’m not concerned about that,’’ Schiano said after the team's captains were announceed. “It just so happens Josh is on a team with other strong leaders. But I wouldn’t read into that that Josh isn’t a leader. I’ll tell you, to a man, I think every offensive player will tell you, 'We follow No. 5'."
The Tampa Tribune reported that prior to losing out in the voting, Freeman actually missed the annual team photo. The Tribune also reported that Schiano emphatically denied anything seedy went on during the process of picking captains.
"That story is 100 percent inaccurate," Schiano said.
Whatever the case, the growing unrest in Tampa Bay does not reflect all that well on Schiano, and it certainly bodes poorly for Freeman. Schiano added to the angst when he told reporters that Freeman "overslept and missed the team meeting Monday."
Freeman had been with the Bucs for three seasons before Schiano stepped in as head coach. The now veteran QB finished 7-9 last year in Schiano's debut season, though he continued to struggle with inconsistent performances. The 17 interceptions Freeman threw was down from 22 in 2011, but still more than all but four QBs fired last year.
Now in Year 2 of his reign, Schiano may have some extra leeway, but his no-holds-barred attitude apparently has ruffled some feathers in Tampa Bay. Schiano has drawn a line in the sand as head coach, jettisoning players like Eric Wright and Kellen Winslow -- the former after some off-field issues, the latter after Winslow skipped a voluntary workout last summer.
Schiano may opt sooner rather than later to ensure that his entire tenure is not tied to Freeman's performance. Glennon struggled during the preseason (33-of-70, three TDs, three interceptions), but Schiano said his rookie was "picking it up" in mid-August.
There's been little to no indication that the Buccaneers plan to extend Freeman's contract beyond 2013, so Glennon, for now, appears to be the future at that position. As the firestorm around Freeman grows, a change at QB could be approaching rapidly.