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USA TODAY - Josh Freeman looks the part of a franchise quarterback. For the better part of his four-plus seasons in the NFL, he's played like he could become one, too.
But conflict between him and Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano wasn't the only concern scouts had when reviewing tape of Freeman after Tampa Bay granted his release last week.
"He's one of those scouting headaches," an NFL scout who has studied Freeman extensively told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity for competitive reasons.
"He's got (talent) just oozing out of him, but trying to harness him it and corral it and get him where he needs to be consistently - that's the big thing."
Freeman stands 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds. He's mobile. He has arm strength to spare. In 2010, his first full season as the Bucs' starter, he threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
The Minnesota Vikings surely remember that version of Freeman, as well as the player who beat them twice at the Metrodome the past two seasons, before signing him to a one-year contract worth around $2 million on Sunday night.
But another high-ranking NFL scout who studied Freeman after his release said that player didn't show up on tape in his three starts this season that produced a 45.7% completion rate for 571 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions before he got benched.
"You see the physical tools," the second scout said, "but you see regressive qualities in his footwork, mechanics, location - the technical precision of the game that is required to play that position beyond the physical dimensions that you can evaluate."
A new scheme and new coordinator last year may have hurt. But it's disappointing, the second scout said, that Freeman didn't continue to grow as the Bucs gave him more weapons, including receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.
"The up-and-down play, the inconsistent performance, selective decision-making under pressure," the second scout said. "Some of those things you wouldn't expect for a guy who was a developing player in Year 3 or Year 4 of the maturation process."
Is a Vikings team with Freeman at quarterback better than a Vikings team with Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel?
"Potentially," a third NFL scout said. "Not much risk for them. He still has the talent and is young."
The Vikings plan to give Freeeman time to learn the offense, with Ponder or Cassel starting Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and perhaps beyond - though coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged Freeman has been told he'll get to compete for the job once he's ready.
Franchise quarterbacks don't appear on the street often. The position is too important, so teams move quickly to lock up any player who looks the part - sometimes to their own detriment. It's unusual for starting quarterbacks even to sniff free agency, absent special circumstances.
Drew Brees had a balky shoulder. Peyton Manning had a bad neck. Michael Vick had a felony dogfighting conviction and had served 21 months in prison. Every other quarterback who opened this season as a starter joined his team as a rookie or (in four cases) via trade.
Freeman's circumstances were special, too. Maybe his mounting struggles were a product at least in part of a scheme change and a deteriorating relationship with Schiano, whose hard-driving style couldn't be more different than Frazier's player-friendly approach.
But to defy the odds and become the rare quarterback to succeed after one team has given up on him, Freeman will need to go back to basics and relearn how to play the position.
"Physically, he has the capability to do it," the second scout said. "But the mental part of playing that position - the timing, the anticipation, the accuracy, the location, the recognition skills - those things are equally critical.
"Maybe being the bullpen guy, having a chance to sit back and just watch for a little bit - that may allow him to mentally mature just as much. Maybe that allows him to catch a little spark here."
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
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