TAMPA — Two No. 5s on a preseason Thursday. It was strange watching the Baltimore Ravens at Raymond James Stadium. No Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed. They’re still the defending Super Bowl champions. And they have their quarterback, today and tomorrow: Joe Flacco, No. 5, big new deal, six years, $120.6 million, at the time history’s largest quarterback contract. The Bucs aren’t thinking championship yet. Astride the world can wait. They simply want to stand and be counted — as does their starting quarterback: Josh Freeman, No. 5.
It was the preseason opener, the first time out, nothing more than that. Freeman played two series, took a dozen or so snaps, led his lads to a field goal and completed four of seven passes for 34 yards. Then he put on a ball cap. “The reps are important, but a lot of it is shaking the rust off,” Freeman said. In came his replacement, rookie Mike Glennon, to throw his first NFL preseason pass. It went for 61 yards. And away we go. Or not. Nothing to see here. Josh Freeman is the Bucs’ quarterback. It’s his job. Do I hear a “for now” in the peanut gallery? In the Bucs’ wildest dreams, and probably Freeman’s, this is the season. This is the season when it all comes together, when Freeman pulls away from the middle of the pack and into elite company — and a new contract. Joe Flacco is already there, and then some. Flacco, 28, was picked 18th overall in the 2008 NFL draft, the year before the Bucs chose Freeman 18th overall. Joe Flacco won two road playoffs games as a rookie. Freeman, entering his fifth season, has yet to make a postseason. Flacco has been to three AFC title games and is the reigning Super Bowl MVP. He has won nine playoff games in five seasons, a record six on the road. That’ll get you $120.6 million every time. Look, the comparison is unfair. Freeman has yet to play on a team like the 2012 Ravens, or 2011 Ravens, or 2010 Ravens, and so on. Who said the life of an NFL starting quarterback is fair? I mean, Greg Schiano didn’t draft Freeman. You can’t get around that, ever, anxiety wise, if you’re Freeman. The question is what he’ll do about it. He has an offense around him with playoff potential, at running back, receiver and, when healthy, on the line. It will come back to Freeman, no matter what. If he gets on a roll, as he did at one point last season (consecutive 300-yard games, three straight three-touchdown games), he’ll be the talk of the town. If he goes into a tailspin, like he did at one point last season (eight interceptions in two games) he’ll also be the talk of the town. People will wonder if he has it in him. It’s the same for any quarterback — until he and or his team wins enough games. Mike Glennon did next to nothing after that big pass play. Hit a few passes, threw an interception. Josh Freeman ran the No. 9 offense in the NFL last season. It’s his offense. There’s a Bucs contract out there with his name on it, no matter who backs him up. It’s just a matter of grabbing it. Or not. Freeman and Joe Flacco stood and watched most of Thursday’s game, sometimes in a heavy rain. It was impossible to look at Flacco for very long without thinking of Freeman. That’s not fair, in any way. Who said the life of an NFL starting quarterback is fair?