The Giants agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman on a year contract that gives them insurance in case Eli Manning’s ankle doesn’t respond to surgery as quickly or fully as anticipated. There have been numerous resulting discussions on Sirius XM NFL Radio about whether Manning’s poor 2013 season was a sign of his skills deteriorating. If you’ve watched every game of Manning’s NFL career it is apparent that his skill level has not changed, and his struggles last season were a byproduct of an injured and therefore inexperienced offensive line, and newer receivers struggling with Kevin Gilbride’s complicated offense.
His injury is another matter, however. Manning has not missed a game since becoming the starter midway through the 2004 season, the longest active streak in the NFL at 151 games, but he is 33 years old and suffered a dreaded high ankle sprain in the season finale against the Washington Redskins. Manning needed to have arthroscopic surgery on the ankle last week when it failed to respond to rest and continued to plague him when he worked out at Duke University with his brother and several members of the Giants receiving corps. He is expected to be fully healed by the time the Giants start training camp in July and start the season under center as normal. But rest was also expected to heal his ankle long before now.
Enter Freeman. A first round draft pick by the Tampa Bay, 17th overall, in 2009, Freeman ascended rapidly, leading the team to a 10-6 record in 2010 with 3,451 years, 25 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. But his play became erratic and he fell out of favor more rapidly than his former head coach, Greg Schiano and was unceremoniously released by the Buccaneers last September. After signing on with the Minnesota Vikings in October, he was rushed into service on a Monday Night against the Giants and he responded with one of the worst performances of his career. Freeman completed only 20 of 53 passes (38%) for 190 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception. But obviously, the Giants reviewed his entire body of work and saw the potential of the 2010 Freeman over the 2013 version in deciding to sign him.
His signing will most impact Curtis Painter as the Giants will keep, at most, 3 quarterbacks and Manning is guaranteed a roster spot. Second year player Ryan Nassib still has a big potential upside, so that leaves returning backup Painter to battle it out with Freeman to back up Manning. Given Painter’s performance as the starter when Peyton Manning was injured, Freeman would be the preferred option for many Giants fans if Eli Manning were unavailable for any considerable length of time. In 2011, Painter started eight games for the Colts, winning none and he completed 54% of his passes with 6 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He was eventually benched in favor by Dan Orlovsky. You may remember Orlovsky from his days in Detroit when he ran out of the back of his own end zone for a safety.
Freeman has a lot of talent, but also has issues that resulted in his release in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. If Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo can coach him up and resurrect his career, they will not only have a competent backup to Eli Manning, but his potential replacement if Nassib doesn’t pan out. Definitely worth a one year contract for what can only be assumed is the veteran minimum. Terms are not yet published. They can re-sign him if they like what they see or simply let him go after the season if they don’t.