As Mike Erhmantraut once told Walter White, “You are a time bomb. . . . And I have no intention of being around for the boom.”
The boom is coming in Tampa, from something other than the cannon on the pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium.
As expected, the Buccaneers deactivated Josh Freeman on Sunday, whom coach Greg Schiano declared to still be the starter after last Sunday’s loss to the Patriots. By Wednesday, Freeman was benched. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.
Freeman refused to talk to the local media during the week. But Freeman granted an exclusive interview to ESPN. The Bucs didn’t like it, sparking reports that Freeman possibly wouldn’t dress for Sunday’s game.
Come Sunday, Freeman was indeed inactive, amid reports that he missed meetings during the week. But he wasn’t on the sidelines. Coach Greg Schiano called the decision for Freeman to watch the game from a suit “mutual,” and Freeman’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, texted the word “lie” to Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.
Also, Freeman once again refused to talk to the local media after the game, violating league policy twice in less than a week.
The public ticking has since subsided, but the boom still looms. Let’s look at the various possible outcomes.
1. The Buccaneers keep Freeman through the end of the season.
This is the “do nothing” option, which given the past few days seems far and away to be the least likely. The Bucs don’t want him on the field — they don’t even want him in position to play due to injury. Paying him more than $490,000 per week to continue to be a thorn in Schiano’s side will make no sense to Schiano.
2. The Buccaneers cut Freeman.
This would happen if Freeman agrees to take significantly less than the $6.44 million he’d be entitled to receive as termination pay. If he’d waive his right to termination pay entirely, the Bucs would cut him right now, we believe. The question is whether there’s a middle ground between $6.44 million and “nothing and like it” that will get a deal done.
The Bucs also could try to stiff Freeman out of his termination pay. Under Article 30 of the labor deal, the team can block the otherwise guaranteed obligation by showing that, “after receipt of a written warning from his Club . . . the player failed to exhibit the level of good faith effort which can be reasonably expected from NFL players on that Club.”
A grievance surely would be filed, and the Buccaneers would have to prove a lack of good faith by Freeman. Even if they lose the grievance, the team would be able to tie up the $6.44 million for months, if not years.
3. The Buccaneers trade Freeman.
The Bucs would love to do it, but there are no obvious trade partners. Even if there were, Freeman could make a deal difficult by, for example, refusing to restructure his contract to reduce the salary he’s due to make over the rest of the year or insisting on a long-term contract (and in turn a long-term commitment) from his new team.
Further complicating a trade are the antics of Freeman and his camp in recent days. Though Freeman has yet to do anything obviously disrespectful or improper, it’s increasingly obvious that the plan is to be just disruptive enough to get Schiano to cut Freeman.
4. The Buccaneers suspend Freeman.
Under the labor deal, a team can suspend a player for up to four weeks without pay for conduct detrimental to the team. Since the Bucs are going to pay him anyway if he’s on the team and not playing, they’ll lose nothing other than legal fees if they send him home without pay and defend the move via arbitration.
Of course, that would make Freeman potentially look even less attractive to potential trade partners.
With a bye coming up, the Bucs have some time to catch their breath and formulate a plan. Ideally, they’d find a way to defuse the situation in the short term, preserving the ability to trade him at some point between now and the Tuesday after Week Eight.
One possibility would be to tell Freeman that, if he behaves for the next month and isn’t traded, he’ll be released after the trade deadline. Though waiting that long would expose Freeman to waivers, any team claiming Freeman’s contract would have to be willing to pay him $4.49 million for nine weeks.
From Freeman’s perspective, there would be no reason to accept that deal. He essentially can kill any trade by making demands that scare a suitor away, and he’ll get his full salary from the Bucs whether he’s on the team or not. The only way to get him to cooperate could be to make him believe that the Bucs will suspend him or try to block his termination pay, which introduces uncertainty and risk into the equation.
Either way, these two sides need to find a way out of the current mess. With neither party apparently in a cooperative mood, it will become harder and harder to find a win-win solution.
And it’ll make it even more likely that the boom is coming.