The Josh Freeman saga has concluded in Tampa, but it still resonates in Kansas City.
Freeman, the former Grandview (Mo.) High and Kansas State quarterback, was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday after a bizarre few weeks that grew progressively strained between the player and team.
On Sunday, Freeman, a starter for the Buccaneers since his rookie season in 2009, was benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
The next day, Freeman issued a statement saying he had a prescription for Adderall to treat ADHD but last year accidentally took Ritalin instead, triggering a positive drug test in violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
News of the positive drug test was leaked to media outlets — that’s why Freeman fired off his response, in which he said he’s taking part in the NFL’s substance-abuse program but has been tested drug-free 46 times.
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano has denied that he was the source of the leak.
SI.com reported that Freeman has been fined twice in the last month for “conduct detrimental to the team” and that Freeman plans to appeal those fines. The infractions included missing a mandatory team meeting and conducting an unauthorized media interview.
The trouble, at least in the public eye, may have started before the season. Freeman said he overslept and missed a team photo, and for the first time in four years he wasn’t elected a captain by his teammates.
The season started, and things got worse. The Buccaneers lost their opener to the New York Jets, blowing a nine-point lead. They also lost to New Orleans and New England before the quarterback switch was made before Sunday’s loss to Arizona.
The Buccaneers, who released Freeman after they couldn’t find a trade partner, will be responsible for paying the final year of Freeman’s five-year contract, worth roughly $6.25 million. He is free to sign with any team.
Freeman’s former coaches were surprised by the news this week.
“He was the most coachable kid you could have,” said Grandview High coach Andy Leech, who was the program’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Freeman played there during 2003-05. “He worked his butt off for us. Maybe Schiano rubbed him the wrong way.”
Freeman left Grandview as the school’s career leader in passing yards (7,175) and touchdowns (78), and Nebraska initially won his college recruiting battle. But Freeman switched his commitment to Kansas State and arrived at the program the same year as Ron Prince, who replaced Bill Snyder after the 2005 season.
Freeman didn’t start initially, but he took over in the second half of a loss at Baylor and led the Wildcats to a home victory over Oklahoma State in his first start the next week, scoring the game-winner on a 21-yard keeper. The season’s highlight was Kansas State’s 45-42 triumph over fourth-ranked Texas, a game in which Freeman passed for three touchdowns and ran for one.
“I have tremendous respect for him as a player and person, his family as well,” said Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who was K-State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Freeman’s first two seasons in Manhattan. “He was as big and strong-armed a quarterback as I’d been around, and he played in that conference as a freshman and a sophomore at a very, very high level.”
The Wildcats lost to Rutgers, coached by Schiano, in the Texas Bowl, ending Freeman’s freshman season, and his next two years ended without a postseason game. He remains the school’s career leader in passing yards (8,078) and touchdowns (44), leaving for the NFL Draft after his junior season.
Tampa Bay took Freeman with the 17th pick in the 2009 draft. He was the third quarterback taken, behind first pick Matthew Stafford by the Lions, and Mark Sanchez, taken fifth by the Jets.
In Tampa, Freeman was reunited with another Kansas State assistant, Raheem Morris, the Buccaneers head coach who was the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator in 2006.
Freeman started nine games and appeared in 10 games as a rookie before becoming a full-time starter in 2010, leading Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record. He threw 25 touchdown passed with six interceptions and appeared to be one of the game’s bright young talents.
But after a 4-2 start in 2011 the team lost 10 straight. Morris was replaced by Schiano after the season.
Last season, Freeman appeared to regain his form, throwing for a career-high 4,065 yards with 27 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
Tampa Bay finished 7-9, and according to the Tampa Bay Times, the team attempted to acquire Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer to compete with Freeman. The Bucs didn’t sign either and wound up drafting Glennon from North Carolina State in the third round.
Freeman leaves Tampa with franchise records for touchdown passes (80) and completions. He’s second in career yards with 13.534.
The coach and quarterback had a frosty relationship, according to media reports in Tampa. Schiano prefers his leaders to play with a rah-rah passion. That’s never been Freeman’s style.
“But that doesn’t mean he’s not competitive,” Leech said. “He has a very competitive nature, and it’s just a matter of time before he bounces back.”
Where? A trip home doesn’t seem likely. The Chiefs are set with Alex Smith as the starter and Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray in reserve.
Oakland could be in the running. Raiders’ offensive coordinator Greg Olson was the Bucs’ offensive coordinator in Freeman’s first four seasons. The Titans, the Chiefs’ opponent Sunday, may be in the market with starter Jake Locker out because of a hip injury.
Would the Packers take a look at Freeman for Aaron Rogers’ backup? Running-backs coach Alex Van Pelt coached Freeman in Tampa Bay during 2010-11.