One Big Mess

We know that the situation in Tampa is ugly, and getting uglier. In examining how we got to this point and what's next, one other thing is clear: The Bucs have painted themselves into a corner as their season circles the drain

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·
The environment in Tampa has gone toxic incredibly fast, with Josh Freeman and Greg Schiano at the center of the drama. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The environment in Tampa has gone toxic incredibly fast, with Josh Freeman and Greg Schiano at the center of the drama. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Note: This piece was written before the Bucs released Freeman on Thursday afternoon.)

As those familiar with my writing know, the NFL offseason—the longest of all major professional sports leagues—is “Me Time,” the time when teams and players are often in conflict over individual needs vs. the greater good. Every NFL team deals with various levels of player discontent; for a team to profess it has a completely harmonious locker room is folly.

Come training camp and the start of the season, however, “Me Time” usually turns to “We Time.” Or so we would like to think. 

The reality is that player-team discord does not magically disappear according to a calendar; it can linger and fester through training camp and into the season. Such is the case in the toxic relationship between the Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman. It is a relationship that appears beyond repair, a schism between coach and player rooted in mistrust and feelings of betrayal.

Freeman was a treasured first-round pick in the 2009 draft—the penultimate draft class prior to the CBA “correction” of top rookie contracts—cashing in with a five-year, $26 million contract with $10.245 million guaranteed. Having started the vast majority of games since his rookie season, he was the presumed leader of a franchise that appeared on the uptick for 2013. 

Or not. Somewhere along the way, Freeman lost the confidence of his coaches, his teammates or both. The anointed starting quarterback a month ago spent last week as a healthy scratch, buried on the inactive list for the Cardinals loss. Now in their bye week, the Bucs have Freeman as the elephant in the room at the team’s most important position. Let’s try to analyze why.

Expiring deal

Perhaps I overestimate the impact of the business of sports, but the contract situation here—or more precisely, the lack of a contract—is undeniably a factor. Freeman is in the last year of a five-year deal and, making a healthy $8.43 million salary.

Every player wants the same thing contractually: a long-term commitment with a substantial guarantee. More than the financial commitment, which is always tenuous in the NFL, players desire to feel like the team wants them around for the long term. This is why franchise tag players, despite making a substantial salary, are frequently disillusioned due to lack of security in spite of high short-term earnings. As I often noted in my negotiations with players, one can never underestimate the power of ego and insecurity among professional athletes.

Despite a reasonably successful book of performance over the past four seasons leading into this one, the Bucs did not secure Freeman for the long term prior to the start of this contract year. The silence from the Bucs front office must have been deafening to Freeman, especially amidst the landscape around him.

Freeman saw extensions this offseason for quarterbacks Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford. While certainly not as accomplished as these players, Freeman could have likely been secured for a significantly lower amount. And whereas Freeman is in the final year of his contract, Rodgers and Stafford were extended with two years left on their deals.

Freeman was certainly not the only quarterback with an expiring contract not extended. Jay Cutler is also in that category, although Bears’ general manager Phil Emery did not single out Cutler, stating that there would be no extensions for any Bears players this season. Freeman’s case is a bit different.

Freeman has seen the Bucs not only spend liberally on imported acquisitions over the past two years—Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson—but saw them secure home-grown receiver Mike Williams to a $40 million extension, with almost $9 million due this year. With all of this spending, the Bucs were content to allow their quarterback to play out his contract. Speaking of which …

Schiano Men … or Not

Josh Freeman (right) lost his job to Mike Glennon last week, but that hasn't been the end of the discord. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Josh Freeman (right) lost his job to Mike Glennon last week, but that hasn’t been the end of the discord. (Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Although Freeman led an offense ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in total yards and passing yards last season, Schiano apparently was unimpressed. He not only drafted quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round of this year’s draft but inserted him into the starting lineup ahead of Freeman, saying Glennon, who had never taken an NFL snap, gave “the team the best chance to win.” Translation: “We’re moving on from Josh.”

In speaking with agents of several Bucs players recently, I have sensed a common theme: There is an atmosphere of fear and distrust under the current regime in Tampa. Players have told their agents about coaches roaming through the locker room (typically the players’ sanctuary away from coaches) and staff videotaping players on the sidelines during losses to single out players laughing or horsing around. The players also speak to the influx of multiple Rutgers players from Schiano’s past and the use of the phrase “Schiano Men,” a term that clearly does not apply to Freeman.

Freeman may be the next player shipped out by Schiano, joining a list that includes Aqib Talib, Dezmon Briscoe, LeGarrette Blount and Kellen Winslow, Jr., as well as this week’s casualties Ahmad Black and Kevin Ogletree. There appears to be a pattern of players, despite their talents, ending up on the wrong side of the coaching staff, with directives from Schiano to general manager Mark Dominik to remove them from the roster.

To be fair, Freeman has not been blameless here. Missing the team photo—for whatever reason—is inexcusable and fanned the flames of a dysfunctional relationship between him and his head coach. Which leads me to …

Tough trading

The Schiano-Freeman saga seems to reach new lows every day, with the latest salvos including a report by FOX Sports that Freeman was told to stay away from a team meeting, this following a report from ESPN that Freeman is in Stage One of the NFL’s drug-testing program due to a mixup with his league-approved prescription for Adderall. One can only wonder what invectives today or tomorrow will bring.

Dominik is in a tough spot. He must try to preserve some relationship with Freeman, although his loyalty—for the time being at least—is with Schiano. Now told by Schiano that Freeman is persona non grata, Dominik has to try to trade Freeman with trade leverage stacked against him.

The Bucs would need a perfect storm to have a willing trade partner for Freeman. That team would have to have a strong interest in Freeman, apresent and future need at quarterback, $6.2 million (Freeman’s remaining 2013 salary) of unallocated cap room to take on the contract, a willingness to insert another team’s problem into their locker room, and a willingness to extend Freeman’s contract rather than “renting” him for 10-12 games. 

As to questions concerning the Bucs paying part of Freeman’s contract in order to facilitate a trade, the NFL—unlike the NBA or Major League Baseball—does not allow cash compensation to be part of a trade. However, the Bucs could (legally) circumvent that rule by restructuring Freeman’s contract to pay him a bonus, reduce his salary, and then trade that contract. For example, the Bucs could give Freeman, say, a $2 million bonus and reduce his remaining salary to $4 million in order to attract a trading partner. I still think it highly unlikely.

I can imagine Mark on the phone with other general managers, in conversations that sound something like this:

“Hey, it’s Mark. Wondering if any interest in Josh?”

“You’re going to cut him, right?

“Uh, well, maybe not.”

“Ok. But why does your coach hate him so much?”

“Well, it’s complicated, but …”

“We’re good. Take care Mark.”

What Now?

Absent a trade, there remain two options for an uncontested divorce:

1. A reluctant co-existence through the season (staying together for the kids’ sake?). In this case, Freeman would keep quiet and collect his $500,000 per week, probably on the inactive list barring injury to Glennon, until his tires screech driving out of town the moment the team’s last game ends, or

2. A termination of Freeman’s contract. In this case, with Freeman being a vested veteran, the Bucs would be on the hook for remaining salary—through termination pay—and Freeman would be able to “double-dip,” collecting salary from the Bucs and a new team if he were to sign on elsewhere. 

Neither option is a good one for the Bucs; the latter option is preferable to Freeman (which probably means it is not preferred by the Bucs).

For reasons that may never be entirely clear, the relationship between the Bucs’ starting quarterback the past four seasons and the team’s head coach seems irreparably damaged. For the good of both sides, it is time to move on. However, as with many divorces, there are no perfect options. Meanwhile, the polluted relationship between the deposed quarterback and empowered coach continues, with the welcome bye week momentarily slowing the downward spiral of a season barely a quarter way through.

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86 comments
SyTh007
SyTh007

I'm sorry, but since when did Gregg Schiano become 'da man', like WTF has he ever won? What are his credentials, the guy is a complete ass hat!

jtrammel9829
jtrammel9829

Schiano is tearing this team apart and was a bad hire, but the case with Freeman I just don't think he's that good.  Freeman has regressed each and every season when comparing the first part to the second part of the season Freeman just stinks.  Now he's horrible this year in his last year of his contract, would you extend this guy?  You are not going to win with this guy so why not give your backup some games because right now he certainly cannot do any worse at this time.

Your decision is to lose with a guy who you will not resign in the off-season or lose with a guy you have under contract for a few more years.  The team could always draft another top QB because of the way they are going they are going to have a high draft pick.

Ciscos
Ciscos

The Bucs have one problem and one problem only.  Greg Schiano.  And since we're talking about him, we might as well toss in his coaching staff as well. 

I don't know what the Bucs were thinking in hiring this guy. I have some thoughts.

1. When have the Bucs ever thought about the coaching aspect clearly? Not since Tony Dungy, who they canned because he couldn't get them to the Superbowl.  They trade for/hire John Gruden and he takes Dungy's men to the promise land.  And what did Gruden do afterwards?  Begin the slow slide back to mediocrity.

2. The Jilted Ex syndrome.  The Bucs clearly thought they had Chip Kelly in the bag the season before.  But the Bucs being Bucs couldn't seal the deal.  Why? Two ideas. A. Chip Kelly really and I mean really wanted to go back to Oregon (yawn). B. The Bucs would not meet all of his requests.  Probably not even half of them.  No one expects to get everything they ask for, but some of it, yes indeed. So they pick a new beau that have all the makings of what your mother warned you about.

3. The fall back guy. Greg Schiano was simply the fall back dude. He had more red flags about his personality while being a HC at Rutgers than Russia waves in Moscow. But somehow, someway, in some form, none of these were a concern to Bucs management.  There was nothing innovative about GS, there was nothing memorable either.  GS was never described as a leader of men, nor even a source of unguarded inspiration.  Why hire him?  Let's look to No. 4.

4. Whose my team? Clearly the Bucs management doesn't even know the psychological make up of their team.  They hired GS because - yes they were cheap, but they also believed their team was undisciplined.  That wasn't there problem under their previous coach.  And even if it was, how do you make them disciplined?  By hiring George Custer, or George S. Patton?  I'll take Patton for 5,000.  

I'm not an advocate for NFL retreads, but in this case, this is exactly what the Bucs needed.  They needed a coach (and coaches) with NFL experience.  What fails Schiano is that his bully tactics and stupidity in management that may have worked with the Scarlet Knights, doesn't work in the NFL where teams make their investments in players, not coaches. 

This is one case where the Bucs need to turn that pirate ship around and pitch Schiano over the side before he drags them down further - and what I fear, back to the foils of their early days.  It took them 26 years before they won a Superbowl and if they keep on being boneheads, it's going to take another 26 years.  Fire Schiano.  Players, fans, etc, will see "... action has been taken and confidence restored."

biggboi
biggboi

get rid of Schiano keep josh 

GooGulsux
GooGulsux

Perfect match.

Bad QB ... bad coach. 

mike202
mike202

It's a lot harder to find an average NFL Quarterback than a below average Coach.

streetrunna74
streetrunna74

i dont understand all this whining and crying about Schiano. I would put Josh Freeman in a class with Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Jake Locker or even Mark Sanchez, somewhere in the lower half of the NFLs QBs. i would have got rid of josh along time ago only reason he went to Tampa in the first place was because Raheem Morris knows Joshs parents and Raheem coached at Kansas State for a short period. really how often does a college coach make the move to the NFL not very. how many 1-2 year coaches take there teams to the top. im not a big fan of Schiano but i cant stand Freeman, good riddens get rid of Josh.

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

Freeman and Schiano are both digging one big grave. 

pamperofirpo
pamperofirpo

Schiano=Mangini. A hard ass with no credibility.

DraaForbes
DraaForbes

I mean come on, it's the Bucs organization as much as it is Schiano in general. I don't like him at all but the Bucs don't have a very good reputation lately when it comes to treatment of players. Just ask Lawrence Tynes how he feels about the Bucs right now. The entire organization is run like a third rate outfit anyway so nobody should be surprised by this.

Kristian
Kristian

Schiano needs to go!  He's an embarrassment and he's turned a team that I've loved my whole life into a classless and dirty organization.  He's a cancer destroying the team from the inside and somehow the owners are just sitting back allowing it to happen. 

The stadium is only half full right now and it's going to get worse.  The most common word that you hear other residents and fans of the Bucs use to describe their feelings right now is "disgusted".  I really can't understand at all how he's still employed. 

DeonLong
DeonLong

Schiano was hellbent on killing Freeman in Tampa figuratively speaking. He has succeeded. However, the price for doing is he will die with Freeman. Stop kidding yourselves. Freeman hasn't lost the locker room. Schiano has.

UHalum
UHalum

Sounds like the coach has taken the "my way or the highway" approach and that might not necessarily be a bad thing.  When the franchise brought in Greg Schiano, I'm sure they knew what they were getting, a fiery coach who was probably going to clean house.  The 'business' of football has dramatically changed the game both on the field and off.  Would Ronnie Lott be the same legendary player if he played in today's game with all the restrictions on hitting?  Would coaching legends like Vince Lombardi and Woody Hayes, famous for their fiery and single-mindedness methods of coaching, be as effective today in a culture where players have borderline diva personalities and get away with it due to contract/agent/union/social network backing?  I'm with Schiano on this one and hope his 'old-school' methods work out because if you're making a WEEKLY five or six figure salary, you should do what the man in charge tells you to do.

David G
David G

What is the over/under on how many games Schiano has left as the Head Coach of the Titanic, oops I mean Bucs?

ngk11
ngk11

I decided shiano was a complete D- BAG with a capital D when he coached his first year in the NFL and instructed his d-line to dive at the o-lines knees when the Offense was just kneeling down to kill the clock. I hope this F--ing D-BAG ends up in the poor house and on his knees turning tricks to feed his family

cramit60
cramit60

The bucs organization and head coach can make any player changes or enforce any locker room or sideline rules they want. But schiano doesn't need to act like a classless jerk when doing so. Saying, that his way has been winning way throughout his career is a bit of a reach.

EdEsposito1
EdEsposito1

You are not in New Jersey any more.   After what was done to Freeman, Schiano will never get another player to give 100% for him.

eddie767
eddie767

If Shiano wants just Rutgers guys,the Bucs will never win. Besides 1 or 2 Rutgers players,what others are worthy of being in NFL? The Bucs players are so lost,Sherlock Holmes,Seal Team 6,or Columbo can't find them.

DGCoyne
DGCoyne

There's nothing wrong with Schiano's principles: play tough, build around players with passion & don't quit. But you can't win in this league if you do not have the respect and focus of your players. Freeman is a humble guy, who has been a team player throughout, and has been severely mistreated by the Bucs organisation. That being said, he wouldn't be in this situation if he had 60% completions & a 3:1 td to int ratio.

I say move on from Freeman, move on from Schiano, and start fresh. 

I for one thought they should never have fired Gruden. 

Gruden & Johnny Football anyone?

JohnLyons
JohnLyons

Trade straight up for Mark Sanchez with the Jets.  Give both a chance for a new start.  Both have large expiring contracts and both are out of favor with their existing team.  

bobinpowell
bobinpowell

"There appears to be a pattern of players, despite their talents, ending up on the wrong side of the coaching staff, with directives from Schiano to general manager Mark Dominik to remove them from the roster."

So the GM is a lackey of the coach?  No wonder this organization has the squirts.

Mike M1
Mike M1

"guess you don't know how we did things at Rutgers"

MattBugaj
MattBugaj

Schiano is pretty worthless and has proven it time and again since he left Rutgers. We can also see from the Mike Rice scandal that being maniacal and inhumane toward players was/is pretty commonplace. For Pete's sake. the basketball coach and the AD get fired over it, so they bring in a similar nut-job to take over? Schiano mashing the Giants' kneel-down? It's a culture of insanity. No matter how spoiled your players are, you still need to be a decent human being.

gary41
gary41

From the first day, looking at Schiano's record and reports coming out of Tampa, I was consistently astounded by comments & incidents arising directly from the head coach.  It has been nothing less than a long series of amateur mistakes, one after the other.  Most certainly underlying facts will slowly come to light, but Schiano cannot possibly last the season.   

Bahia
Bahia

Do the players in TB respect the coach or are they just there to get by and collect their paycheck?  It's not college where you can pull a kid's scholarship.  My guess is that there isn't alot of passion in that locker room, and even though the guys are doing their job on the field, this team will still be lacking wins in those close games.

corvettekp
corvettekp

Its amazing how and when the media chooses to lock onto a story.  The story above is the same one that has happened throughout sports history.  Shiano was brought in because the prior coach had little or no discipline so it will take time for it to become part of the culture, and you will have to get rid of the diseases in your locker room.  Just look at the list of people who the Bucs have shipped out "Aqib Talib, Dezmon Briscoe, LeGarrette Blount and Kellen Winslow, Jr., as well as this week’s casualties Ahmad Black and Kevin Ogletre".  Some of those names want me to get a shot from the doctor as they are a cancer waiting to happen.  Pretty one-sided story AGAIN by another clueless reporter.

rmwest2001
rmwest2001

I have zero problem with ripping Shiano a gigantic new bunghole, but propping up Freeman in the process?  Freeman is a cancer.

Ed16
Ed16

Vince Lombardi wouldn't stand a chance as a coach in today's NFL. The highly-overpaid, pampered, self-centered players of today want a nanny, not a coach. To quote Lombardi, "What the hell's going on here?"

JMillerNC
JMillerNC

The fact remains that Freeman hasn't helped himself with his "poor wittle me" interviews.  His image is that of a self-centered cry baby.  He did most of that to himself by the way he whined during his interviews.  All of the stuff about Schiano, management, ownership, true or not, has little to do with the image that Freeman is cultivating for himself.

Teams want to sign team-first leaders, not locker room whiners.  Maybe Josh Freeman is a team-first leader, but I didn't get that from the interview I saw with him over the weekend (can't recall if it was ESPN, I think it was).

el80ne
el80ne

@DraaForbes What happened to the Bucs organization that seemed so well run a decade ago when they made the superbowl? What happened to that proactive organization that traded for Gruden and won a superbowl? Did the owner go MIA?

The_Flying_Erxlebens
The_Flying_Erxlebens

If his approach worked, the team wouldn't be 0-4. "My way or the highway" doesn't work with grown men. These players are professionals, and if you treat them like they're children, or like you don't trust them. You will lose the ability to lead them.

And Woody Hayes got fired for punching a player.  There's a reason his "old-school" methods aren't used anymore.

James164
James164

@David G Probably his last year, and after his stupid risk of injury during the victory formation fiasco along with his his ignorant replies where he actually couldn't understand why it was the wrong thing to do,  I doubt he will have any place left to go in the NFL.

StevenBoyette
StevenBoyette

We were within one score of the win so if Eli had fumbled and the Bucs had recovered and scored then Schiano would have been billed as a genius. The possibility of Eli getting injured rest squarely with his offensive line because the game isn't over till its over that's why they have to snap the ball again instead of just going to the locker room. I'm not a big Schiano fan but ANY coach that doesn't do ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING within the rules to win a game isn't much of a coach at all and last time I checked there is no rule preventing rushing the QB just because the offense is in a victory formation, maybe in pee wee football but not in the NFL.

Kristian
Kristian

@ngk11 Me too and I'm a Tampa fan.  That was incredibly embarrassing and classless.  That's not playing hard, that's being an a--hole.  

Joseph F
Joseph F

@eddie767 It has nothing to do with Rutgers.  Rutgers has class, Schiano doesn't know the meaning of the word. And FYI there are a LOT of Rutgers Alumni in the NFL, look it up yourself.

eddie767
eddie767

@Mike M1 If we were to judge "how you did things at Rutgers",you and the rest should know,in order to get respect you need to give it. So in other words "you ain't s#%t". Shiano is making Rutgers Alum,those that agree with his methods,look like spoiled brats.

cappucino3
cappucino3

@corvettekp Are you seriously calling Aquib Talib a cancer?  Four interceptions in four games for the Pats, one pick 6, and Matt Ryan targeted him 7 times on Sunday and had a QBR rating of 0.0 against him.  The only thing the Bucs are demonstrating is idiocy at gauging talent.

mike202
mike202

@Ed16 Are you actually comparing Lombardi to Schiano?  

James164
James164

@The_Flying_Erxlebens Great post...very true. Schiano is like the low IQ bully in school, only he is still acting like one as an adult.

UHalum
UHalum

@The_Flying_Erxlebens Tampa Bay let go the last coach, Raheem Morris, lauded all-around as a 'player's coach', because obviously that approach wasn't bringing in the desired results.  


The 0-4 start may have as much to do with the house cleaning and getting rid of the bad apples as anything.  Changing a culture takes time and the situation in Tampa Bay wasn't so rosy to begin with or else Raheem Morris would still be there or management would have brought in a similar type of coach.  The fact they brought in a hard-core disciplinarian speaks volumes to what the management felt was needed to get the most out of the team and getting the ship pointed in the right direction.


Yes, Woody Hayes went too far when he punched the Clemson player but his era was full of hard-nosed, tough coaches such as Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi, etc. who are still revered today.  We revere those coaches in part because they didn't put up with babying grown men and putting up with diva personalities. They trained and cultivated tough guys to play a tough game.  I really enjoy football, played it all the way to college, but not a big fan of some of the antics, sense-of-entitlement, diva behavior that professional, college and (thanks to year-round, big time high school recruiting coverage)some high school players display.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

"Without" creating that kind of environment.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

It starts with mutual trust and respect. You aren't going to be successful as a coach with creating that kind of environment. Same requirement in the military or business.

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