Jets' Mark Sanchez, Bucs' Josh Freeman linked in disappointment
In the weeks leading up to the 2009 draft, there was a significant disagreement among the Jets' decision-makers about whether to take Mark Sanchez of USC or Josh Freeman of Kansas State.
In one camp were a handful of personnel executives who preferred Freeman, who had prototypical size and arm strength and an effortless throwing motion. The Jets likely wouldn't have had to move up from the No. 17 pick to get Freeman, meaning they could have kept all their lower-round picks and still gotten what they considered a franchise quarterback.
In the other camp, which included general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan, the preference was for Sanchez despite his limited body of work as the USC starter. But it would almost certainly require a major trade up the draft board to get him.
The Jets wound up making that trade, dealing away several draft picks and players to the Browns at No. 5 to get Sanchez. The Bucs then wound up trading with the Browns at the 17th pick Cleveland got from the Jets and then took Freeman.
In the end, neither quarterback worked out. But they remain inextricably linked after seeing their fortunes plummet less than five years into their NFL careers.
Both showed initial promise, with Sanchez winning four road playoff games his first two seasons and Freeman going 10-6 in his second season and improving last year with a career-high 27 touchdown passes.
But both have been in a career free-fall. Sanchez is unlikely to regain his starting job because of a preseason shoulder injury and Geno Smith's subsequent strong play the first three games. Freeman is out of the Bucs' long-term future after being benched following an 0-3 start and because of continued problems getting along with coach Greg Schiano. Among other things, Freeman missed the team photo because he overslept and reportedly missed another team meeting. For the first time in four years, he was not selected as a team captain.
How fittingly sad that Freeman is benched the same week that the Jets visit the Titans, who for all practical purposes ended Sanchez's run with the Jets last year by forcing the quarterback into four interceptions in a 14-10 loss. Sanchez was benched for the first time in his career the following week, and his stunning regression prompted the Jets to look in another direction at quarterback.
It's now a foregone conclusion that Freeman and Sanchez will be playing elsewhere next season; exactly where, no one knows just yet. But just as they were in 2009, they will be compared to one another by NFL executives looking for help in the passing game. With teams such as the Raiders, Browns, Jaguars, Browns, Vikings and Cardinals potentially in the mix for veteran quarterbacks, Freeman and Sanchez will be closely watched.
If you're an NFL personnel executive looking at both quarterbacks, there is plenty to be learned -- even now, when both players are out of action.
Freeman in particular had better watch himself and be mindful about how he behaves. He has come off as completely self-absorbed and concerned more about himself than the team.
Yes, there are problems with Schiano, who has rubbed several players the wrong way. But if you're acting out against your coach in one city, what's to prevent that from happening in another, especially when things get difficult on the field?
Bill Parcells uses the expression "there are a lot of exit doors" when it comes to players facing hard times, and Freeman clearly has gone through the exit door in Tampa. In the process, he is showing himself to be a me-first player, something no coach likes, regardless of how talented the player is. In a sport as tough as football, you need guys who are willing to pay the price, even in defeat.
Freeman has bolted on his coaches and has bolted on his teammates. He has requested a trade, and the Bucs are sure to accommodate him if someone is willing to offer even a seventh-round draft pick. Tough to see that happening, especially given that Freeman is due more than $6 million in salary in 2013 and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
Sanchez, meanwhile, has been a model teammate, not only staying with the team to rehab his shoulder while spending time on injured reserve but doing whatever he can during practice and games to help Smith with the Jets' game plan. He has been nothing but supportive, taking his cue from the time when he was a rookie and veteran Kellen Clemens did the same for him.
Their skill sets are comparable, although Freeman may be blessed with more athletic gifts than Sanchez. But the Jets' backup clearly has the better mind-set, and that goes a long way for a quarterback trying to find his way in the next stage of his career.
Freeman or Sanchez in 2014? Looks as though Sanchez might go ahead of his draft classmate one more time.