It really is a new day in Tampa Bay

April, 25, 2009
4/25/09
9:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the Himes Ave. side of Raymond James Stadium there's a huge painting of Jeff Garcia. If you want to see it, drive by real soon.

It's going to be erased just like everything else related to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the last decade. Josh Freeman is coming and a whole new way of thinking around One Buccaneer Place already is here.

"This guy coming in is the franchise quarterback,'' coach Raheem Morris said Saturday evening. "He's the long term.''

What the Bucs did by jumping up two spots to No. 17 to get Freeman was hit the brakes on the way the franchise has thought pretty much since the Bucs moved into their new stadium. The go-for-it-now mentality that characterized the entire Jon Gruden era and the last couple years of the Tony Dungy days is gone.

If your head hit the dashboard when the Bucs drafted the Kansas State quarterback or were one of those fans at the draft party in the stadium who booed when the pick was announced, get used to the idea. The pace has slowed and the days of acting now and worrying about it later are over.

At least for as long as Morris and general manager Mark Dominik are around, and they're sounding and acting like guys who think they'll be around for a while.

"We just made a long-term decision for this franchise,'' Dominik told me a few minutes after picking Freeman.

Drafting a guy like Freeman, who was considered a bit of a project by some teams, isn't the kind of move if you think you're holding a seat for Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan for a year. This is the kind of move you make when you're thinking about setting down roots for a family and a franchise.

"I am married to him,'' Morris said when asked if selecting Freeman would mean he was going to be married to the quarterback. "There is no 'going to be'.''

If the Bucs were going for the quick fix, they would have followed the paths of their NFC South rivals in New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina. Those teams went out and filled immediate needs on defense. The Saints took defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, the Falcons grabbed defensive tackle Peria Jerry and the Panthers traded up in the second round to get defensive end Everette Brown. Any of those three picks immediately would have looked very good in a Tampa Bay uniform.

Instead, those three might be chasing Freeman around for the next decade. That's what the Bucs are picturing, even though they didn't quite come out and declare Freeman the starter for September.

They declared him much more than that.

"If I had the Detroit Lions' pick at No. 1, I might have taken Josh Freeman,'' Morris said. "I would have been fighting for him.''

Those words could come back to haunt the Bucs when it comes time to negotiate Freeman's contract, but who cares? That was Morris talking honestly and out of pure emotion.

"He's my guy and I went and got him,'' Morris said.

Freeman truly is Morris' guy. They met when Freeman was a freshman at Kansas State and Morris was the defensive coordinator there. Morris left after that season, but kept an eye on Freeman.

Morris has heard the criticism that Freeman isn't very polished and the coach did make the obligatory comments about how the rookie will be competing with veterans Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich.

But let's face reality. After what Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco did as rookies last season, the NFL model for quarterbacks has changed. And speaking of Ryan, the Bucs have his former college coach, Jeff Jagodzinski, as their offensive coordinator.

Go do it again, Jags, and do it fast. Yeah, it's possible the Bucs could start the season off with McCown or Leftwich. But Freeman's not going to be sitting for very long. The Bucs literally and figuratively made him the franchise Saturday.

The paint that's going over that Garcia image already has been ordered.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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