The curious case of NFL quarterback Josh Freeman

OPINION - This week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mercifully did their quarterback, their fans, and the collective football community a long overdue service: They cut Josh Freeman...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

This week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mercifully did their quarterback, their fans, and the collective football community a long overdue service: They cut Josh Freeman.

The Freeman saga has played out like the script of a daytime soap opera for weeks. The season began with Freeman in position to prove his doubters wrong, pull a Joe Flacco, and earn the big-money, long-term contract he and his camp felt he rightfully deserved. A quarter of the way through the season, it’ll end with Freeman emptying out his Bucs locker.

How did it get so bad, so quickly?

Three years ago, in his first full year as a starter, Freeman led the Bucs to 10 wins and was a Pro Bowl alternate. Now, he’s on the cusp of being the next Vince Young – a player who flashed extraordinary talent early in his career, left the team that drafted him under bizarre circumstances, and bounced around, and ultimately out of, the league.

Both parties have blame to share in this situation; the Bucs conducted what appears to be a full-fledged smear campaign.

A leak to the media that your star quarterback is missing meetings is suspicious. Making public that he is in the NFL’s substance abuse program is downright shady.

It’s not a good look for the Bucs, and it could have future consequences. Per

In speaking with agents of several Bucs players recently, I have sensed a common theme: There is an atmosphere of fear and distrust under the current regime in Tampa. Players have told their agents about coaches roaming through the locker room (typically the players’ sanctuary away from coaches) and staff videotaping players on the sidelines during losses to single out players laughing or horsing around.

There’s reason to believe that the Bucs situation was toxic, and Freeman getting out of Tampa may end up being the best thing for his career.

But Freeman shares a large portion of the blame as well.

Attitude reflects leadership

As the quarterback –  and supposed leader – of the team, missing any meeting is unacceptable. If you lose your job, immediately running to the media and demanding a trade doesn’t exactly show you have a model work ethic, either.

What doomed players like Young, and to an even larger extent JaMarcus Russell, was the perception that they weren’t willing to put the work in.  What separates the Russell Wilsons from the Akili Smiths is being a film junkie, leading by example, and being the ultimate team player.

If the reports are to be believed, Freeman wasn’t exuding any of those qualities. When your teammates are voting to have the “C” removed from your jersey, it’s clear you have an issue.

His performance on the field also raises red flags. Since 2010, he’s been incredibly inconsistent. He was terrible in 2011, fell apart in the second half of 2012, and was completing just 45 percent of his passes this season before losing his job. He’s just 25 and he’s already regressing; a bad omen for someone hoping for a long career.

He is still an attractive commodity. Big quarterbacks with strong arms, who can move are rare in the NFL. There’s not many Ben Roethlisberger clones currently on NFL rosters, a common comparison for Freeman early in his career. With the dearth of true franchise quarterbacks, Freeman will get another chance to prove himself.

Turning uour career around – at 25

He’d be wise to learn from every mistake he made in Tampa …and he’s made several. When Young left for Philadelphia in 2011, he probably thought the fresh start would reboot his career. Instead, two years later, he’s out of money, and essentially out of opportunities.

Freeman wanted out of Tampa, and he got his wish. The relationship was one that needed to come to a divorce.

But now he’s out of chances. At his next stop he’ll have to prove he can be an effective NFL player, while also re-building his reputation that has taken a massive hit.

The soap opera is finally over, but from here on out, if things don’t work out he has no one else to blame. He won’t be able to blame his coach, or management, or an organization trying to besmirch his character.

It’s all on him. Just like he wanted.

Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace