QB Josh Freeman will be able to continue his development without interruption after signing on Thursday
Though not compelled to do any football work during the month of July, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Josh Freeman has been visiting team headquarters all week, putting in voluntary field sessions in the morning with a handful of teammates.
Now, Freeman's work can continue uninterrupted into the week, thanks to a contract agreement reached between him and the Buccaneers late Thursday night. The 17th pick in the first round of the 2009 draft, Freeman signed a five-year deal at about 1:30 a.m. on the eve of the reporting date for training camp. Beyond its length, terms of the contract were not disclosed by the Buccaneers.
Freeman was the last of Tampa Bay's six 2009 draft picks to finalize his first NFL contract, but the deal was still done in a very timely manner. Though the Buccaneers have managed to avoid lengthy rookie holdouts for more than a decade of training camps, the first-round picks have most commonly signed on or shortly after the day the players report. Tampa Bay management set the groundwork for getting the entire draft class into camp on time by beginning contract work early this summer.
According to the latest update on NFL.com, Freeman is one of only 12 2009 first-round picks who have signed to this point, though several of the other 20 are reportedly very close. All three quarterbacks taken in the first round, including first-overall pick Matthew Stafford and fifth-overall pick Mark Sanchez, have now signed.
Reporting to camp on time was undoubtedly important to Freeman, who will be part of a wide-open four-man competition to earn the Buccaneers' starting quarterback job. Freeman is battling veterans Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich and second-year man Josh Johnson for the opening-day spot, and Head Coach Raheem Morris has not ruled out the possibility of the rookie winning the job.
Freeman is the first opening-round quarterback Tampa Bay has selected since 1994, when Fresno State quarterback Trent Dilfer was the pick at number six overall. Dilfer played six seasons for the Buccaneers, moved into a starting role in his second year and was a Pro Bowl selection in 1997.
Freeman could have a similarly fast impact on the franchise – and potentially more long term success. The Buccaneers will definitely have a new starter under center in 2009 after Jeff Garcia was not pursued in free agency; even if Freeman doesn't step immediately into the role as a rookie, there is room for him to develop quickly.
One of the nation's premier athletes, Freeman has the size (6-5, 248 pounds) and tools usually associated with a "franchise quarterback." In addition to his strong arm and pocket presence, Freeman also has impressive mobility for his size.
The Kansas City native started 32 of the 35 games in which he appeared and broke Lynn Dickey's team records by throwing for 8,078 yards on 680 completions in 1,151 attempts. Freeman completed 59.1% of his passes over three seasons, tossed 44 touchdowns against 34 interceptions and finished with a career passer rating of 124.7. Freeman also ran for 20 touchdowns, 14 of those coming last year, when he did the majority of his running.
Freeman, who declared for the draft after his junior season, had his best season last fall. He completed 224 of 382 passes (58.6%) for 2,945 yards, 20 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He ranked 17th in the nation in total offense (279.1 yards per game), rushing for 404 yards on 107 carries and directed the 19th-best scoring option in the land.
In 2007, Freeman completed a career-best 63.3% of his passes and threw for 3,353 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The year before, he was the first true freshman to start for the Wildcats since 1976, opening the last eight contests.