Bucs' rookie QB Freeman lands five-year deal; starting job next?

TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Freeman wants to give himself every opportunity to become Tampa Bay's starting quarterback, so the rookie insisted on signing a contract before the start of training camp.

"I expressed to my agent that one of my main goals is to become the starter ... and the best way to do that is to be in camp on time," the first-round draft pick said Friday after agreeing to a five-year deal worth $36 million, including more than $10 million guaranteed.

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"Obviously we probably would have liked a little more, and they probably would have liked a little bit less," Freeman added. "But we all wanted to be in camp on time. That was the main focus."

Although the Bucs had their sights on the future when they selected him 17th overall, the former Kansas State star was impressive enough during offseason practices that coach Raheem Morris has not ruled out the possibility of playing him right away.

The other quarterbacks in camp are Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich, who have both been starters in the NFL, and second-year pro Josh Johnson.

The first practice is Saturday. Morris conceded it may be difficult to ensure each candidate gets enough snaps during camp to give each a true shot at winning the job.

"The older guys deserve the privilege to get the most reps in the beginning," Morris said, adding that ideally he'd like to settle on a starter before the third preseason game. "The young guy got his chance throughout OTA days and got better and better."

Freeman wouldn't speculate on his chances of winding up No. 1 heading into the season.

"Honesty I couldn't tell you. That's all the coach's decision," Freeman said after he and the rest of the team reported to camp Friday afternoon. "I'm just going to come in and try to give them every reason I can to start me."

"We'll let the preseason take care of that," general manager Mark Dominik said when asked if he'd be comfortable heading into the season with a rookie at quarterback.

"I've stated all along, and ... Raheem and I have spoken on this a number of times. The best-laid plan is let Josh sit and learn," Dominik added, "but we'll let the guys compete and decide that on the field."

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Freeman, who entered the draft after his junior year, completed 59 percent of his passes for 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns in three seasons at Kansas State. At 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, he not only was difficult to sack, but had 20 rushing touchdowns.

The 21-year-old was the third quarterback selected in the draft behind Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.

The Bucs softened their stance on bringing Freeman along slowly when neither McCown nor Leftwich clearly established themselves as No. 1 during the offseason program.

Two rookie quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, led their teams to the playoffs last year.

And while Morris reiterated the Bucs won't rush Freeman's development, he insists he won't hold him back if he's clearly better than the veterans.

"When we drafted him, we said 'we'll get the guy, get him in here, and we'll let it play itself out," Morris said.

"And Josh became a problem. A good problem," the coach added, referring Freeman's performance in organized team activities and minicamp. "You look forward to that. We'll just make the decision as we go."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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