TAMPA — And just like that, it's all about No. 8.
Hoping to halt a skid in which they have lost their first three games this year and eight of their past nine dating to last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday made a change at quarterback, benching five-year veteran Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
The move came just two days after second-year Bucs coach Greg Schiano said Freeman gave his team the best chance to win and would remain his starting quarterback, sentiments that apparently changed during a meeting with general manager Mark Dominik and the team's owners Tuesday at One Buc Place.
“Mark and I believe this gives us the best chance to win today,'' Schiano said Wednesday, after naming Glennon the starter. “We haven't played particularly well on offense the last nine games, and although it's not completely the quarterback's fault, that position touches the ball every play. So, this is where we are.''
Where Freeman goes from here is hard to know.
Freeman will be the Bucs' backup quarterback for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium, Schiano said. But Freeman is the final year of his rookie contract, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. There is a chance he could be dealt to another team before the Oct. 29 NFL trade deadline.
“I'm not going to hold Josh hostage,” Dominik told USA Today. “But if we get something, we get something. We're not going to give him away.''
The Bucs gave up a sixth-round draft pick and traded up five spots from 21st overall to 17th in the 2009 draft to get Freeman, whom they immediately proclaimed their franchise quarterback and quarterback of the future.
At times, that future looked very bright. After the Bucs got off to an 0-7 start in 2009, Freeman won big in his first NFL start, rallying Tampa Bay from behind to beat the Green Bay Packers 38-28 at Raymond James Stadium.
It was all about No. 5 after that and Freeman often did his part, guiding the Bucs through a 10-6 season under coach Raheem Morris in 2010 and setting franchise records for passing yards (4,035) and touchdown passes (27) in 2012.
But Freeman struggled with consistency, throwing 16 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions during Morris' final season in 2011 and finishing the 2012 season by throwing four interceptions each in two of his last three games.
When the 2012 season ended, Schiano responded to the slump by saying he wasn't sure if Freeman would be his quarterback going forward. While he later threw his support behind Freeman, the decision to draft Glennon in the third round in April created speculation about Freeman's future in Tampa.
In announcing the change on Wednesday, Schiano said the move was entirely “performance based,'' indicating that Freeman's 45.7 completion percentage and 59.3 passer rating — both ranked 33rd in the league — all but forced the team's hand.
“The fact of the matter is, we were not getting the job done on the field, and that's why we made the decision,'' Schiano said. “I look at our offense these last nine games and I don't think we've performed up to the level of our expectations.''
There certainly has been a fall from last year. Despite Freeman's struggles down the stretch, the Bucs ranked ninth overall in total offense a year ago. They enter Sunday's game against the Cardinals, however, ranked 31st in the 32-team league in total offense and passing offense.
As Schiano said, though, Freeman's play is not totally to blame for the slide. The Bucs also rank second in the league in dropped passes with 10, according to ProFootballFocus, their place kicker has missed two of his past three field-goal tries and they rank sixth in the league with 11 pre-snap penalties.
“It is hard to say that it's just him,'' Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said of Freeman. “I think it's all of us. There are a lot of other components that we have to zero in on that are part of the problem.''
For now, at least, the Bucs have zeroed in solely on their quarterback, in part because they believe the schedule allows them an opportunity to get Glennon up to speed before the season becomes a lost cause.
“It is beneficial that Mike will get to play this game on Sunday and then have a bye week to really decipher through it and learn from his experience before he has to play his next game,'' Schiano said.
“That's a side benefit of the decision, but it wasn't by any means the reason it was made now. We just felt that at this time, Mike Glennon gives us the best chance to win and that's why we did it.''
The Bucs aren't the only team to hand their offense over to a rookie quarterback recently. The Seattle Seahawks went to the playoffs last season with third-round pick Russell Wilson, the player Glennon replaced at North Carolina State. Schiano hesitated to compare Glennon to Wilson or anyone else, though.
“I think Mike Glennon is Mike Glennon,” Schiano said. “And Mike Glennon is going to help us win on Sunday and he's going to help us win a lot of games. But this is not easy stuff.
“Anytime you have to change it's hard work. These are human lives we're dealing with here. But we have to win games. This is a performance-based business, and I believe this is what gives us the best chance to win games.''
Glennon did not perform exceptionally well during the preseason, which so far has been his only time under center for the Bucs. He completed 33 of 70 passes (47.1 percent) for 397 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and a 61.4 passer rating.
He has not taken a snap since, but Schiano and Sullivan are confident Glennon will perform at a winning level.
“Since he's arrived he's had a maturity about him, a sense of focus and an ability to maintain an even keel,'' Sullivan said. “I'm pleased with where he's been and looking forward to him continuing to grow and develop and see where he's at this Sunday.''
At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, Glennon is a tall, lanky, strong-armed passer who finished his college career ranked among the top five N.C. State quarterbacks in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes.
For him, the move is a dream come true.
“This is what I prepared my whole life for,'' he said. “I can't wait. I've prepared ever since I can remember for this. Growing up, this is what I dreamed of doing, this is what I worked for. I'm really excited about it.”