In today's NFL if you don't have a quarterback, you don't have a shot. End of story. The quarterback is the most important player on the field and there's no pretending he's not. Sure the offensive line has to do their jobs so that the quarterback can do his. This is what football is at its very core. A larger than life domino effect. One missed block leads to a sack, which turns into a fumble which is returned for a touchdown. One receiver makes a wrong turn on a route and the quarterback throws an interception. Just ask Brett Favre (see the 2009 NFC Championship) how that one feels.
The point is, despite the fact that each position depends on every other one to do their job, the quarterback is always the most important guy on the field. He touches the ball on every play. He's required to read the defensive alignments before the ball is snapped. He's required to adjust protections, call audibles, be fast, be accurate, read and react to defensive pressures and schemes, and remain calm at all times. That is no easy task by any stretch of the imagination. That being said finding someone who can not only handle the mental part of the game, but also has the physical tools to succeed can be challenging.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it's damn near impossible. We've never had a quarterback who stayed with the franchise for 13 years, like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. There are 3 quarterbacks who played for at least 5 consecutive seasons in Tampa: Trent Dilfer, Vinny Testaverde, and Doug Williams combined started 215 games for the Buccaneers. They amassed 95 wins. Peyton Manning started 208 consecutive games for the Colts and amassed 141 victories. It's amazing to me as a fan that you can watch the good fortune of a franchise like the Indianapolis Colts who had 16 seasons with Johnny Unitas, drafted John Elway (Even though they traded him away) drafted Peyton Manning, and now have drafted Andrew Luck. They enjoyed over a decade of dominance under Manning, over a decade and a half with Johnny U, and will most likely be in contention at the very least for a playoff spot each year for the next 12 years with Andrew Luck at the helm.
We've never really been close to anything resembling a franchise quarterback until 3 years ago when we drafted Josh Freeman. Freeman was young but had enjoyed great success at Kansas State. I'll admit, when we drafted him, I was a hater. I thought Freeman was a bum who was going to simply be a bust at the next level. November 8, 2009 changed everything. Josh Freeman threw 3 touchdowns and led a come from behind victory over the Green Bay packers that ranks as my second favorite win of all time in Buccaneer history. (Number 1 was beating the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) Despite his heroics I was still a little skeptical. As we watched the rest of the season I felt as though he had accuracy issues that resulted in him missing many wide open receivers.
2010 made believers out of many people. Freeman displayed toughness, tenacity, presence, and an ice cold ability to lead come from behind victories in the fourth quarter. I was still a little wary. Several of the most spectacular plays that year were simply Freeman throwing lobs in the general direction of Mike Williams (see the San Francisco and second New Orleans games for evidence) and Williams making some fantastic catches.
The beginning of 2011 Freeman seemed to have regressed. He was back to throwing interceptions in the end zone, not feeling pressure, not scrambling, and in general holding onto the ball way too long. I attributed much of this to the lockout. Despite a shaky start we were still sitting at 4-2 after 6 weeks and had beaten our 2 biggest rivals in the NFC South, the Saints and the Falcons.
Then we went to London.
After beating the Saints in dramatic fashion the Buccaneers travelled to London to take on the Chicago Bears. The Bucs would not win another game all year.
During our astounding 10 loss fall Josh Freeman looked terrible, however in all fairness to Josh he wasn't helped by any other facet of the team. The defense didn't have a problem getting off the field... because the other teams were scoring so often. The receivers didn't have issues with dropping the ball... they just had slick hands from all the koolaid they'd been drinking. The offensive line didn't have problems with protection... they just thought they were running screen passes all day. The coaching staff wasn't terrible... They were just preoccupied thinking of their next catchphrase to describe our team. (Youngry??? Seriously???)
All kidding aside Josh Freeman was put under the gun by his teammates each and every game. During that 10 game losing streak, we fell behind early and often. Freeman had to drop back and throw 40+ times a game. Every member of the defense knew we weren't going to run the ball. It didn't matter if the Bucs ran it for 10 yards. We needed points. So they pinned back their ears and came after us. They repeatedly got to us.
Now the 2012-2013 season is looming on the horizon. For this coming season, Freeman has been given every advantage on offense. He has a big time upgrade along the offensive line in the form of Carl Nicks. Nicks when paired with Davin Joseph may just make up the best guard tandem in the league so Freeman shouldn't have too many protection issues. He's been given a highly touted first round running back with the selection of Doug Martin. He's also been given the high profile, absolute number 1, wide receiver Vincent Jackson who should allow him to show off his considerable arm strength when throwing the ball down the field.
The excuses are over. Coming into his fourth year in the league he needs no further time to adjust to the speed of the NFL. He has this entire offseason to practice with his receivers and work with his coaching staff. He should have a top tier running game, a rock solid offensive line, and a very respectable receiving corp.
The question now is can Freeman with all the advantages he's been given, truly thrive? No one will really know until we start playing the games for real but I know one thing for certain. If he can't win with the group that's been put around him, the Buccaneers big board for the 2013 draft may have the letters QB at the top.