In 2009 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the 17th pick in the draft to select Josh Freeman. After playing behind Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson for seven games, Freeman took over the starting quarterback role after the Bucs began the year 0-7.
Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times broke the story on Sunday that Freeman will not receive a contract extension this off-season. As discussed here last month, allowing Freeman to play out his rookie contract is the correct decision. However, with Freeman's future up in the air, it is time for Tampa Bay to begin considering their future options.
In an ideal world Freeman excels in 2013 and earns either a new contract or Tampa Bay uses the franchise tag on him. Either way this would be a big payday for Freeman, but it would also signal his fifth year as the Bucs starter was his most consistent and productive. In games that he has started Tampa Bay is 24-33. For every good game or positive month in his career, Freeman has matched it with a poor game and ineffective month. Knowing that a major decision will be made at the end of next season, the Bucs must begin doing their due diligence now.
If we assume Freeman doesn't “figure it out” during 2013, a new quarterback will be in place after next season. Tampa Bay must decide if they want to address that situation now, with a veteran or a project, or if they should put off the decision until next season. As we saw this season with Colin Kaepernick, Kirk Cousins, and Nick Foles, there is value in having a young backup. There are also trade targets and free agents worth considering.
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It is likely that Alex Smith, Matt Flynn, and Michael Vick are all available via trade. Joe Flacco will probably return to Baltimore but that is not set in stone. Chase Daniel, who has looked good in exhibition games but never gotten a real chance behind Drew Brees, is a free agent. Jason Campbell would be a candidate if Tampa Bay wants to go the veteran route.
As for finding a quarterback through the draft, most experts do not think this is a stellar class. USC's Matt Barkley, Geno Smith of West Virginia, former Arkansas Razorback Tyler Wilson, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, and Mike Glennon of NC State do not exactly feel like Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. That being said, a third round pick could have snagged you Russell Wilson or Foles last year, and Cousins went in the 2012 fourth round.
If Tampa Bay elects to wait until after next season to make a move, Jay Cutler and Tony Romo could hit free agency if the Bears and Cowboys elect to move on from their starters. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, and Ohio State's Braxton Miller are interesting candidates who could declare for the draft.
There is not just one right way of going about finding the next Buccaneer quarterback. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik's first ever draft pick was Freeman. His future will rest on who he brings in to replace Freeman baring what would be a surprisingly effective and reliable 2013.