Lately there have been some calls from a few fans for the Vikings to re-sign Josh Freeman in the off-season. We've been pretty adamant that Josh Freeman isn't coming back in 2014. But, never-the-less some of the arguments go like this: Josh Freeman didn't have adequate time to learn the playbook, he was rushed into game action and his epically bad performance isn't really indicative of his true talent. In addition, we should give Freeman a full off-season, complete with a new coaching staff, new offense and new offensive coordinator to see what he can do with added time with receivers and through an entire offseason program and training camp. Supporters will also point to his great 2010 season and flashes of greatness in a few games in the 2011 and 2012 season as evidence of future potential. Despite this coming across a little like beating a dead horse, I think resigning Josh Freeman would be a terrible idea. So, let's flash back to October, when the Vikings first acquired Josh Freeman after he was cut mid-season by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and take a more in-depth look at the question of resigning Josh Freeman for the 2014 season, shall we?
Actually, let's flash back even earlier, to a little over a year ago when Greg Schiano was caught saying, "I have to evaluate everything before I can say that's what we're doing" in regards to keeping Freeman after a disastrous finish to the 2012 season. Shortly after Schiano made those infamous post-season comments, the Bucs drafted quarterback Mike Glennon in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. Josh Freeman made comments about the Bucs being "his team" and Schiano was forced to back-track from that earlier season-ending statement a bit. Tension was beginning to mount between Freeman and Schiano, and by the time the Preseason was finished, it was widely reported that the two of them were not getting along. There was speculation that Schiano rigged the vote to strip Freeman of his team captain role. And then there were reports of Freeman missing team photos and meetings, and getting fined for missing those meetings. It was also leaked that Freeman voluntarily put himself in a drug program for the treatment of ADHD. And of course, he was ultimately benched after opening the season 0-4. Things got very messy to say the least, and it all led to his release from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers soon after, all during what should have been a contract year.
Shortly after the Vikings signed the free agent, this report was making the rounds claiming that Leslie Frazier did not want the team to sign him, and that Frazier was overruled by Rick Spielman and Zygi Wilf. There could be some truth to this, as a heavily invested Spielman was clearly coaching Freeman on what to say during his first phone interview after being signed by the team. And then Spielman gave his reasons for wanting Freeman too, later explaining:
In this scenario," said Spielman, "you've just got to take your shot. You have the opportunity to keep a player around for a few months and to learn a lot about him, whether he plays very much or not. When does the opportunity present itself that you don't have to spend a high draft choice or a big contract to acquire a young quarterback with lots of starting experience. We have the luxury that Josh doesn't have to be thrown into the fire.
But thrown into the fire he was. Leslie Frazier started Josh Freeman less than 2 weeks after arriving to the team, and his performance against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football was embarrassingly bad. Freeman sat on the bench for the rest of the season, inactive for the vast majority of games. Then in December after Matt Cassel had a great game against the Bears, Frazier said the following regarding Josh Freeman:
We've watched some things with Josh in practice and meetings. He's done a lot of good things, but where we are now, we want to be able to take a look at Matt and see how he does in back-to-back starts.
Just what were those "things" Frazier saw when watching Freeman in practice and meetings? Perhaps some of those things were the same things that were going on in Tampa Bay shortly before he was released. When the Vikings season was over, several players spoke about Freeman's short time with the Vikings and it does Freeman and Frazier no favors. It was pretty clear that the Vikings' players viewed the move to start Freeman so soon as an act of desperation on the part of coach Frazier.
"You could tell Josh did not know the offense," one anonymous Vikings player told USA Today of the week leading up to that New York tilt. "Practices did not really go that well that week. But coach Frazier was in the team meetings like, 'Oh, I think this is the best week of practice we've had all year.' And everyone's like, 'What? What are you talking about?'
But more importantly, players admitted that Freeman was often late to team meetings, and was frequently the last player in the building for practices. Perhaps these were the "things" Leslie Frazier was referencing? Either way, it's fair to say that the way Frazier handled the Josh Freeman situation wasn't positive. And yes, it was Frazier's decision to start Josh Freeman. Spielman confirmed this in his year-end press conference after firing Leslie Frazier, when he said:
Now we had a lot of consulting, we talked through a lot of the situations, but ultimately that decision has to be on the coaches. I would never want to say you have to play that guy or you have to play this guy. That's not my role. Just like I would not want a coach to tell me you have to take this guy.
So, that explains everything, right? Spielman went after Josh Freeman when Frazier didn't want him, and Frazier retaliated by starting him before he was ready, thus ruining Freeman for the rest of the year? That seems like the most likely scenario. And when it was all but certain Frazier would be fired, Freeman himself even claimed to want to return to Minnesota next year. But hold on. What does Leslie Frazier have to say about all this?
Well, according to Leslie Frazier, the same guy that was responsible for whether or not Josh Freeman ever saw the field, claimed Josh Freeman didn't get a fair shake in Minnesota. Wait, what? So does that mean that Frazier believes he didn't give Freeman a fair shake, because that's sure what it sounds like. Frazier said:
"[W]e made a decision to try to figure out where Christian Ponder was and also take a look at Matt Cassel as well, as we tried to determine and get some questions answered at our quarterback position," Frazier said. "Josh got caught up in the shuffle of that. It probably wasn't the fairest situation for him, made it difficult for him, made it difficult for all of us as we were trying to evaluate quarterbacks in an NFL season. That's not a wise thing. But nothing to do with Josh. He prepared and worked as hard as he could to get on the field. It just didn't work out."
Despite the veiled shot at Spielman by calling evaluating QBs in a season "not wise" (because that was the justification Spielman used for signing Freeman in the first place), it seems like Frazier's comments mostly confirm what was going on. The decision to start Freeman so soon was on Frazier, and we can speculate why he made that decision all we want (was it retaliatory, or just desperation?)...the bottom line is it didn't work out. But the decision to even sign Freeman in the first place was on Spielman. He admitted fault at the QB position in the same press conference referenced above and takes responsibility for it.
So now that all the facts are on the table, should the Vikings attempt to re-sign Josh Freeman this off-season? I believe the answer to that question should be no. And here is why:
1. Josh Freeman isn't a leader
We've seen reports about Freeman's approach to practice and team meetings from two different teams and both are reporting essentially the same thing: he's late to meetings, and is one of the last players in the building for practices. For someone who might want to be a starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, taking on more of a leadership role by being a model player would seemingly be the approach to take. And that means being the first one in the building and being on time to team meetings. He was cut from the Bucs and benched all the way to inactive status for the Vikings. If that doesn't speak to the lack of leadership on the part of Josh Freeman, I don't know what does.
2. By the time the 2014 season begins, Josh Freeman won't have had a good game in over 22 months.
The last great game Freeman had was on November 11th of the 2012 season. He went 14 of 20 for 210 yards and 2 TDs against the San Diego Chargers, leading the Bucs to a 34-24 win. He's played 11 games since then and hasn't looked very good in any of them, leading his teams to a combined 1-10 record. For over a year now, Josh Freeman has arguably looked worse than Christian Ponder as a starting NFL QB. His four games in 2013 were some of the worst by an NFL quarterback in recent memory. If he becomes the starter for the Vikings in 2014, what makes us think that he will suddenly start having good games, nearly 2 years since his last one? The coaching staff? Is that the only counter-argument? He's been with two previous coaching staffs during that stretch of 11 bad games, so will a 3rd staff suddenly turn him around?
3. The Vikings have already moved on.
When Rick Spielman admitted, "I haven't gotten in right yet" in the press conference referenced above with regards to the quarterback position, that was a pretty big indictment of every quarterback on the roster in 2013, including Josh Freeman. If the General Manager of the Vikings doesn't think Josh Freeman is the future at the quarterback position, then why should we?
4. He would be too expensive.
According to Spotrac, one of the better websites that tracks and projects free agent contracts, Josh Freeman should be expecting a contract in 2014 worth about $2.4 Million dollars, down from a very generous $7.5 Million projection just 5 months ago. His stock has fallen for sure, but even at $2.4 Million, he would be the 3rd highest free agent quarterback available behind Matt Cassel and Michael Vick. We could pay Matt Cassel $3.5 Million instead, and not have any of the above issues to deal with. Besides that, we have a cap hit of over $3 Million ear-marked for Christian Ponder in 2014 whether he makes the team or not. Seeing as how the team is likely to draft a QB, and because of the guaranteed money owed Ponder, it doesn't make much sense to tie up any money in Josh Freeman, especially if the team plans on keeping Matt Cassel around. In other words, they will need to choose between Freeman and Cassel, and at this point that seems like a pretty easy choice to make.
So, what say you Vikings faithful? Was Leslie Frazier right in saying that Josh Freeman was not given a fair shake in Minnesota? Does Freeman deserve a second chance? Or should the Vikings part ways with the troubled signal caller and move on?