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What does Josh Freeman's signing and contract mean for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

As reported a week ago on Buc 'Em, Josh Freeman did indeed sign with the Bucs just prior to the beginning of training camp.  The deal is for 5 years with a total value of $36 million, including $10.245 million in guaranteed money. 

With Freeman now officially in the fold, what does it mean for the Bucs?  Is it a team friendly deal?  Where do we go from here?  We'll answer these questions, after the jump of course

Let's tackle the nature of the contract first.  From a fan standpoint, I think the deal Freeman received is pretty team friendly.  He went in the middle of the first round, plays a premier position, and has a contract that stacks up pretty favorably.  One key item to remember when looking at his deal, he is seen by the Bucs as the future at quarterback.  He may or may not perform like that, but as of today, he is the future.  He is in the same ranks (status wise) as Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan (as a rookie) and Brady Quinn (as a rookie) .  So where does his deal rank?  Usually, the higher the pick, the higher the contract and with each new year, the deals are more, meaning all things being equal, a player taken in the same slot in 2008 will make more than the 2007 version.  Without further ado, here are the deals. (Note: All figures are approximates based on team releases and include likely to be earned incentives, but not the potential maximum, which typically have other incentives.  All figures in millions)

Player Length Total Guaranteed Salary Avg Salary/year
Freeman 5 36 10.245 25.755 5.151
Stafford 6 72 41.7 30.3 5.050
Sanchez 5 50.5 28 22.5 4.500
Ryan 6 72 34.75 37.25 6.208
Quinn 5 20.2 7.75 12.45 2.490
Heyward-Bey 5 38.25 23.5 14.75 2.950

While his average salary per year is right in line with most of the players, his guaranteed money is well below.  That's a good thing for the Bucs, particularly if you think Freeman won't pan out.  All of these players were/are seen as starters or the future of their respective franchise and it looks like the Bucs struck the best (read: cheapest) deal.  I added Heyward-Bey as an interesting reference point.  Widely panned as the biggest reach in the draft, he is pocketing roughly the same total as Freeman, but with more guaranteed.  I think I'd rather roll the dice with Freeman and less guaranteed money than Heyward-Bey.

What does this mean for Freeman?  He and his agent should be commended for getting a deal done to get him in camp.  I understand the pessimism about him, how 80% of Bucs fans think he will fail.  At this point, that's irrelevant.  Whether we like him or not, whether we want it to happen or not, the table is set for Freeman to start in 2010 at the latest, with 2009 a realistic possibility.  We might as well start rooting for him now.  He's a Buc, which doesn't mean we can't analyze, criticize or be disappointed, just that he's here, so we might as well suck it up.  I'd rather get the positive karma out there as a fan base and hope he is the answer at QB long term, than piss and moan.  Worst case scenario?  He is terrible and we blew a top 20 pick on a QB.  Not a good thing for the Bucs.  Best case scenario?  We found our QB for the future.  I'd rather root for that scenario than the downside.

With Freeman coming into camp, he's immediately in the middle of the open quarterback competition.  I'm not going to debate whether he should start or not (I'm clearly in the "sit the rookie" camp, at least until we are eliminated from playoff contention or it's a necessity), but more look at what it means for him in relation to the team.  It allows him to be exposed to any and all coaching that every other player gets without missing a session.  He has a full training camp to become acclimated to the team, the environment, the playbook, all critical factors in being successful at the NFL level.  He has given himself every opportunity to succeed at this point, which is what I want from a potential franchise player.  It's early, but take this as one of hopefully many positive steps to come.

What does this mean for the Bucs?  They continue their trend of getting picks into camp on time with zero holdouts in 2009.  That's tremendous for an organization.  This also allows Morris and Jags to get their hands on Freeman and start the coaching and learning process.  It also enables the team to analyze Freeman in direct comparison to Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson.  Freeman may very well be the best quarterback of the bunch, but this will remove most of the speculation and allow for hands on analysis.

It will also give the Bucs a chance to bring Freeman on as they want to.  That may mean sit him first year, part of the first year or start him day 1.  But any type of setback has been removed thus far, so the team and front office have no excuses on this one.  They can't fall back on hold outs, that they didn't have their guy.  This is the exact scenario the team must have wanted; they got their guy, one with a connection to the head coach, got him in camp on time and provided him every opportunity to succeed.  As a fan of the organization, while I may or may not agree with the pick, I am pleased with the turn of events at One Buc Place.

Where do we go from here?  I'm gonna hold off on running out and buying a Freeman jersey, but I am rooting for him, as a Buc, to succeed.  With training camp literally hours away, it's time to sit back, play some armchair quarterback and watch how the team, and Freeman in particular performs in camp. 

Whether you like it or not Bucs fans, the Freeman era is here.  He's got every opportunity to succeed, it's up to him to make the most of it.  Welcome to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Josh.