Josh Freeman's new agents wanted to meet with the Buccaneers, and apparently did so. Freeman's agent Erik Burkhardt told The Bay Cave that talks were positive, and that the Bucs believed in Freeman. You know, the standard completely meaningless agent speak. He also noted that the Buccaneers "have shown [..] that they are willing to get a deal done."
Those reports that the Bucs are going to let Freeman play out his contract apparently didn't mean much, then.
It's possible that the Bucs were spooked by Joe Flacco's massive contract. That sounds entirely reasonable, because giving Flacco the biggest contract in NFL history -- and one that will need to be renegotiated in three years, too -- seems like a pretty bad idea. I like Flacco, but not at that price level. But that's what you get when you try to negotiate a contract with a quarterback who just had one of the best postseasons in NFL history. It's bad timing.
Meanwhile, getting a Josh Freeman contract done right now would be quite beneficial. He's coming off an inconsistent season with a poor end to that season. He had a decent season, but regressed in some ways and there are plenty of negative reviews out there. He doesn't have much leverage, and could likely be signed for a relatively cheap contract -- around $10 to $12 million per year. Yes, that is cheap on the quarterback market. Of course, that may cause Freeman and his agents to decline such a contract, much like Flacco reportedly did early last year.
Most notably: the Buccaneers have plenty of cap space to do so. Note that Freeman is already taking up over $10 million in cap space this year. The Buccaneers could get Freeman at a relatively cheap price now, and the risk if he fails would be relatively small. Meanwhile, the upside is humongous: they could have a long-term contract done at a very expensive position, freeing up cap and cash to spend elsewhere. A luxury the Ravens, Saints and others with expensive quarterbacks do not have.
We can view this in a simple table:
|Freeman busts||Freeman succeeds|
|2013 extension||-$25M over '14-'15||$60M over '14-'18|
|No 2013 extension||No loss||$120M over '14-'18|
Now, there are a few assumptions here. I think you can sign Freeman for $60 million in new money until 2018, with $25 million guaranteed in 2014 and 2015. That's a risk of $25 million in wasted money over 2014 and 2015 -- definitely a sizable risk, but not a disastrous, franchise-killing risk. It would represent a two-year gain of $25 million over the alternative of not signing him right now. The other scenario is more intriguing, though: you'd have a very good quarterback under contract for five extra years at a cheap price. But if Josh Freeman succeeds, you are out of pocket around $120 million over five years -- basically, what Joe Flacco got.
Let's look at this table a little differently and take the no extension scenario as a baseline, to crystallize the risk/reward:
|Freeman busts||Freeman succeeds|
|2013 extension||-$25M ($-12.5M/year)||+$60M ($+12M/year)|
|No 2013 extension||0||0|
Of course, this analysis is slightly simplified. Is $25 million saved early worth more than $60 million saved over a longer period? Would Freeman and his agents even accept an offer like that right now? And while I present the options here as binary, there's a lot of middle ground to cover. What if Freeman has a mediocre year? What if he improves, but doesn't have a great season? And even the long-term results aren't success/fail. He could have a good season, and then falter later on. Or he could have a horrible season, and then succeed elsewhere.
Still, at its core this is just a simple bit of risk/reward analysis -- something I don't think NFL teams appear to do consistently enough. NFL teams are extraordinarily risk averse, and it leads to them missing a lot of opportunities to 'exploit' players who would be willing to accept cheap deals. We can see this in Michael Bennett, for instance, who could have received an extension at probably $5 million or less per year, and is now going to demand a much bigger contract on the open market. The Buccaneers stand a chance of losing a premier starter, because they wanted to avoid paying him a medium amount of money in case he busts.
So should the Buccaneers extend Freeman right now? I don't know, it all depends on the exact numbers. But to exclude it without any talks is simply foolhardy.