We debated whether Freeman was still the quarterback of the future last week. The outcome was unclear, and Sunday's game certainly didn't help make matters clearer. But we can safely say that that game didn't help him. I will say this, though: it appears that the Bucs themselves are as committed to Freeman as ever, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised with a contract extension this offseason.
Yet, even if Freeman is given an extension, one thing is abundantly clear: Freeman remains a work in progress. He is certainly an above average quarterback and one capable of absolutely astonishing throws and great games. He can, at times, carry a team to victory, as he did late in the game against the Carolina Panthers this season. And yet he's also capable of putting up some clunkers. The inconsistency is maddening, and means no one can know what, exactly, they're going to get out of Freeman from week to week or even from play to play. Will good Freeman or bad Freeman stand up? In that sense, he's like Michael Vick. Or, for older Bucs fans, Vinny Testaverde.
This still makes him better than many other NFL quarterbacks, who often only have two modes: mediocre QB or bad QB. In the case of the Arizona quarterbacks, that would be bad QB or soul-destroyingly-awful QB. So awful, not even Larry Fitzgerald can help them. Be happy you're not a Jets or Cardinals fan. Unless you are, in which case: my condolences.
In any case, this inconsistency will likely remain a problem throughout Freeman's career. There's one thing the Bucs can do as an insurance policy against his inconsistencies. They can draft a backup quarterback in hopes of finding a diamond-in-the-rough, a tradeable commodity who, in the best case, could turn out to be a viable Freeman-replacement in the long run. Or, in the worst case, a bust -- but at the cost of just a mid-round draft pick. Certainly valuable, but missing on a third- or fourth-round pick is not the end of the world.
The 2013 NFL draft may be perfect for such a gamble. The draft may lack a clear number one quarterback, it is absolutely filled with very talented quarterbacks who aren't good enough to become starters immediately, but may develop into starters in the long run. Behind Geno Smith and Matt Barkley, players like NC State's Mike Glennon, Florida State's E.J. Manuel, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib and Tennessee's Tyler Bray (if he declares) are raw, unpolished quarterbacks with many, many flaws. But they're also talented, and could develop into quality starters in the long run. In the mean time, the Bucs can continue to monitor Freeman's
Of course, there are some downsides, there. Any time you draft a quarterback, you create an instant quarterback controversy. And, let's be honest, how often has a non-first-rounder really developed into a long-term answer at quarterback? One struggles to find examples beyond Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Tony Romo over a 15-year span. They have, however, developed into players you can trade fairly often. Matt Cassel and Matt Schaub are prime examples, but even Kevin Kolb and Charlie Whitehurst somehow netted a decent sum in trade.
Do I expect this to happen? Not really. The Bucs appear married to Freeman, and they won't wish to undercut him the way the New York Jets undercut Mark Sanchez. But having someone at hand just in case? Well, that may not be a terrible idea.