Tampa Bay decision-makers Raheem Morris (left) and Mark Dominik targeted Kansas State QB Josh Freeman on Saturday and made the necessary moves to make him a Buc
Raheem Morris saw Josh Freeman arrive in Manhattan, Kansas as a highly-touted young quarterback prospect in 2006.
Morris quickly bonded with the young man, even marking him with a nickname (which he smilingly refused to share with the Tampa media on Saturday). He saw the promise in Freeman and would often talk to him about life in the NFL, something that Morris had experienced as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002-2005.
Morris returned to the Buccaneers in 2007; meanwhile Freeman rapidly developed into a talented 6-5 passer seemingly made for the professional game. The two stayed in touch, and Morris was thrilled to see Freeman deliver on all his natural promise. In January, Morris was promoted to head coach by the Buccaneers, putting him in a decision-making position for a club that held the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Morris, who believed strongly in Freeman, knew what he had to do: Stay quiet.
Rather than sing the young passer's praises around One Buccaneer Place, Morris laid back and let his fellow Tampa Bay coaches and scouts form their own opinions. New General Manager Mark Dominik practically had to demand an opinion on the Kansas State passer from Morris weeks before the draft. Morris himself scouted his former Wildcat peer as diligently as if he was any other prospect.
Morris didn't want his past experience with Freeman coloring the team's overall evaluation of the prospect. In the end, everybody at One Buccaneer Place saw it the same way.
"Early in the process I tried to stay back away from it a little bit," said Morris. "You don't push a guy, you don't sell a guy and you don't even give your opinion of a guy because you don't want to sway people's opinions in the building. You just want to give him a chance to be around people. So you bring him in on a pre-draft visit. You meet with him at the combine. You let your coaches evaluate the tape; you talk to them later and get their opinions. You let them tell you what they believe and what they think and then you say what you believe.
"You get it all in the same circle, in the same hat, mix it up and you pull out a solution and he was the solution."
Indeed, Freeman is on paper the age-old solution that NFL teams have sought when trying to nail down the most important position on the field for years at a time: Big (6-5, 248 pounds), supremely talented, mobile, confident and poised. It's fair to say that Freeman's confidence borders on cockiness, which is a common trait among premier NFL quarterbacks. Freeman was the third quarterback taken this year after Georgia's Matthew Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez, but he expects to provide the best returns.
"Definitely, I feel like that I am the better quarterback but they are getting more of the hype," said Freeman. "I have the rest of the my career to prove to everybody that I am the best guy and I am looking to do everything in my power to make that so."
The Bucs haven't jumped into the first-round quarterback debate since 1994, when they took Trent Dilfer sixth overall out of Fresno State. This is just the fourth time in 34 years that the team has gone this route, also taking Doug Williams 17th overall in 1978 and Vinny Testaverde first overall in 1987. In each case — for better or worse — that quarterback was under center by his second season, was on the team for at least five years and was essentially the starter for most of that tenure. Freeman is no absolute guarantee; no player in the draft is…still, Morris is extremely confident.
"You never say when a guy is going to be a franchise quarterback, he will tell you," said Morris. "He'll let you know. He comes in here, he'll develop, he will get it going and do what he has to do to compete to be the very best and once he is the very best he will let you know."
It's a shot the Buccaneers were more than eager to take.
"Any time you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback on your football team, a guy that creates so much excitement, a guy with a big arm, a guy that is accurate, a guy that has talent, 6-5, 250 pounds, that can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball and can be your guy of the future, you go get him," said Morris. "He addresses all the needs for you."