TAMPA — It all makes sense now. His benching, his banishment to that dreaded “inactive suite,’’ even his release last Thursday after five mostly encouraging years as the face of the franchise.
In each sordid episode of what will forever be known around these parts as The Josh Freeman Saga, the Buccaneers were left with no choice but to act and act harshly.
A young, talent-laden quarterback with a penchant for inconsistency on the field that they’d learned to live with had inexplicably developed a penchant for inconsistency off the field, and that was something the Bucs could not live with.
Start with the missed team photo shoot a week before the season opener. The quarterback is always front and center in those photos, and there’s a reason for that. The quarterback is the centerpiece of the franchise.
Yet, this centerpiece couldn’t get there. OK, maybe it wasn’t that big a deal. The power had gone out at his house the night before, Freeman said, his alarm clock was flashing 12:00 and he overslept. It happens. To everybody.
Even Bucs coach Greg Schiano saw it that way. So, Schiano agreed not to fine Freeman for his mistake. Just don’t let it happen again, Schiano said. But less than a week later, it did happen again. And again.
On opening day — opening day — Freeman missed the team breakfast. Then he showed up late for the team bus to the stadium. Strike one and strike two. But even then, Schiano showed leniency.
According to rules laid out in the collective bargaining agreement, the team could have fined Freeman $12,360 for those offenses. Instead, Schiano fined him $4,000 and issued a familiar warning: Don’t let it happen again.
Only a day after Schiano announced that he could no longer live with Freeman’s inconsistencies on the field and was dropping him to second on the depth chart, Freeman missed two team meetings.
You just can’t have that from your quarterback. Not even from your backup quarterback. So, off to the “inactive suite’’ he went. After that, it was only a matter of time before he’d be banished from the roster as well.
From the Bucs’ perspective, their quarterback had gone rogue. Perhaps it was in an effort to earn a release instead of a trade, but he’d gone rogue.
And you just can’t have that. As much as the Bucs tried to deny it, the mess had become a distraction. It was literally keeping Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik from doing their jobs.
From Monday to Thursday of last week, Schiano and Dominik spent hours each night trying to decide what message, if any, to release to the public regarding the latest Freeman behavioral report.
Those were hours that were supposed to be devoted to self-scouting a team that at 0-4 is badly in need of self-scouting. You just can’t have that, they finally decided, not with anyone, but especially not with your quarterback.
It’s a sad tale, this Freeman saga. It might be the saddest and ugliest in the history of a franchise with a long history of sad and ugly sagas. The saddest part is that it all could have been avoided.
Clearly, the Buccaneers tried to avoid it. They gave Freeman a pass after he missed the team photo shoot and cut his fines for the opening-day offenses to a third of what they could have been.
And for three games they stuck with him despite a level of play that had him ranked 33rd in a 32-team league in passer rating and produced a league-low three offensive touchdowns.
Given all that, it’s hard to imagine any other coach or team handling this situation any differently. Yet, many still see Freeman as a victim that Schiano was out to get and believe that somehow it was the Bucs that did all this to him.
Based on all the evidence, however, it seems Freeman did all this to himself.