Josh Freeman said he wasn’t promised anything from the Vikings, but with his career at a crossroads, the free-agent quarterback chose what he described as an ideal landing spot.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to follow your heart,” Freeman said after arriving at Winter Park for the first time. “I felt really comfortable. A great gut feeling. I’m definitely fired up.”
Freeman signed his one-year contract and planned to delve into the Vikings playbook Monday night as he adjusts to a new team and new beginning in a once-promising career that careened severely off course the past month.
Freeman picked the Vikings after drawing interest from 10 teams. And though he downplayed the prospect of becoming a starter again, Freeman admitted he found the team’s talent on offense appealing.
“I don’t think there’s a quarterback in the game of football that doesn’t think they would be a good fit for this offense,” he said. “This is a very talented offense.”
It’s unclear when Freeman will get his chance to run that offense as the Vikings sort through a muddled situation at quarterback. Coach Leslie Frazier said either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel will start Sunday’s game against Carolina as Freeman gets acclimated to his new system.
Ponder is still recovering from a fractured rib, which means Cassel likely will start for a second consecutive game. After that, who knows? But General Manager Rick Spielman acknowledged that “we are going to get Josh Freeman ready to play.”
Freeman’s signing creates a logjam at that position and fuels the perception that Ponder’s tenure is near its end. Both Frazier and Spielman denied that Freeman’s arrival means the team no longer believes Ponder is a long-term option. But it’s impossible not to draw that conclusion based on the organization’s aggressiveness in pursuing a talented quarterback who is only 25 years old but has started 59 NFL games.
“This has no determination of where Christian Ponder is,” Spielman said. “It was just another opportunity to go out and add another football player that we have high regard for.”
Asked if Ponder will remain on the roster moving forward, Spielman said, “As of right now, we don’t intend to make any other moves with our quarterbacks.”
Freeman became available after a messy and public divorce from the Bucs that was fueled by an untenable working relationship with coach Greg Schiano. Freeman reportedly missed a team photo, lost his captaincy in a vote of teammates and incurred more than $30,000 in fines by the Bucs this season for various infractions.
Freeman fought back after someone leaked to the media that he is a stage one participant in the NFL’s drug program. Freeman released a statement acknowledging that he has an exemption for Adderall to treat ADHD but that he made a mistake and switched to Ritalin, which caused a positive test. Freeman said he’s passed 46 drug tests since voluntarily entering the program.
Schiano initially benched Freeman and then released him late last week.
“Obviously, he didn’t feel that I was the guy he wanted leading his team, the caliber quarterback he wanted behind center,” Freeman said.
Frazier said the team did some “digging” on Freeman’s issues with the Bucs before deciding to sign him. Frazier said he believes Freeman’s problems with Schiano were isolated and not a pattern that should raise red flags.
“You hear so many things [that] you have to find out what’s true and what’s not,” Frazier said.
Spielman studied Freeman and spent time with him during the draft process in 2009 and said he has no concerns about Freeman’s character.
The Vikings are hoping a clean slate will help Freeman re-establish himself. He passed for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. In 2010, he threw 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
Spielman said the Vikings want to evaluate Freeman the remainder of this season to determine whether he can become a long-term fit. Freeman said he’s simply happy for a new start.
“Right when I heard I got cut, it was kind of like, ‘I want to get back in there right away,’ but from a standpoint of career move, something I really liked about the Vikings is they’ve got a guy,” he said. “They’ve got a situation where I can come in and learn the system, whether they call for me and need me to play. It’s an opportunity for me to kind of pump the brakes. It’s been a pretty crazy past few weeks.”