The Bucs will not discuss extending Josh Freeman's contract in the off-season. That means his rookie deal will expire after 2013. If he plays great, the team will use its franchise tag on Freeman and try to sign him to a long-term deal. The exclusive-rights franchise tender for a quarterback would likely be more than $17 million for one year.
In many ways, it's the Bucs' only play. They don't want a situation like the Jets have with QB Mark Sanchez; they'd like to cut ties but have guaranteed him $8.25 million next season.
But the Bucs are headed down a slippery slope you can spend decades on — change the coach, change the quarterback.
Coach Greg Schiano inherited Freeman, so he has no loyalty to the enigmatic quarterback. He likes a lot of things about Freeman's game — he did set franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns — but plans to add a quarterback, either in the draft or free agency, to compete with Freeman next season.
But let's say Freeman doesn't lead the Bucs to the playoffs in 2013, his fifth season. He's gone. Schiano might start over with a new signal caller that might not win fast enough to save his job.
Need a history lesson?
Ray Perkins became Bucs coach in 1987. The team had a struggling third-year quarterback with 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions named Steve Young, who was traded to the 49ers for a second- and fourth-round draft choice.
Perkins used the No. 1 overall pick on Vinny Testaverde. When Testaverde struggled, Perkins traded a first-round pick to Indianapolis for Chris Chandler. That failed and Perkins was fired. Richard Williamson went 3-13 in his only full season as coach in 1991. Sam Wyche tried to resurrect Testaverde after he was hired in '92, but the Heisman Trophy winner left after that season and signed with the Browns as a free agent.
Wyche went to Craig Erickson at quarterback, but in 1994, Trent Dilfer fell to the Bucs in the first round. Wyche felt pressure to play him, didn't win enough and was fired in '95. In came Tony Dungy, who went to the playoffs four times in six seasons. But Dungy couldn't get over the hump with Dilfer, signed Brad Johnson as a free agent and was fired after 2001.
Finally, Jon Gruden was hired in 2002 and won a Super Bowl with Johnson but ran through nine starting QBs in six seasons. Raheem Morris was hired, drafted Freeman in the first round and … you know the rest.
Tampa Bay has not made the playoffs in five seasons and hasn't won a postseason game in a decade.
The success of rookie QBs such as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson gives teams hope of catching lightning in a bottle. But Cam Newton looked solid a year ago and struggled in his sophomore season.
"You know again, going back to the silver lining, you are right, it was an up-and-down year," Schiano said of Freeman. "But 4,000 yards, records all over the place, there are a lot of positives there. Certainly when the expectation level is what we make it, and you don't reach it, there is also disappointment."
After Week 14, Freeman had 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But you can't erase the back-to-back four-INT games or the fact that his team has never reached the postseason.
Freeman, who turns 25 next Sunday, is out of excuses. After 2013, he could run out of time.
WRIGHT STATUS: Barring a change of heart by the organization, CB Eric Wright has likely played his last game as a Buc.
Wright was inactive for the finale at Atlanta because the team did not want to risk him becoming injured and eligible for up to $1.5 million in injury protection under the collective bargaining agreement. A career-threatening injury might have given Wright a claim to his 2013 salary.
Wright signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract as a free agent in March. He had guarantees of $7.25 million in 2012 and $7.75 million in 2013. But Wright lost $500,000 in workout bonuses because he failed to attend the required number of offseason days. His four-game suspension cost $1.9 million in salary. That reduced Wright's compensation closer to his real market value of $4.85 million.
The suspension for violating league policy on performance-enhancing drugs served as a get-out-of-jail free card for the Bucs, voiding the $7.75 million in guarantees for 2013. There is no timetable for releasing Wright. At minimum, the Bucs would have to try to re-sign him to a lesser contract. But expect him to be released before May.