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Freeman is available, but who’ll want him?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reacts after an incomplete pass in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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With three separate reporters simultaneously reporting that the Buccaneers are open to trading quarterback Josh Freeman, the message is clear -- the Bucs want people to know that Freeman is available.

A media-erected billboard isn’t really necessary. With Freeman in the final year of his contract and now firmly affixed to the bench, it’s obvious he’s not in the team’s plans.

Actually, it was obvious the moment the name “Mike Glennon” was announced at Radio City Music Hall in late April.

The Bucs publicly supported Freeman as the starter, starting with coach Greg Schiano’s comments in the wake of the Glennon pick. Schiano later said that the team was sending no message to Freeman.

But the hints were there, beginning with the notion that Glennon would get “a lot of reps” in the offseason. Those comments prompted us to write this on May 15: “If nothing else, the bouquets being tossed Glennon’s way will light a fire under Freeman to step it up, once and for all. If he doesn’t, Glennon’s streak of supplanting starting quarterbacks could continue.”

The last starter supplanted by Glennon is now the starter in Seattle, and the success of Russell Wilson and other young quarterbacks undoubtedly has prompted the Bucs to take a chance on their third-round rookie.

And so, taking a page from the Jerry Jones unequivocal-ain’t-the-same-as-unlimited support playbook, Freeman firmly remained the starter . . . until Schiano decided to make someone else the starter. The challenge now becomes finding someone else to take Freeman off their hands, in the next four weeks and six days.

For the same reasons Freeman couldn’t remain the starter in Tampa, no one else will want to install him, either. He has been uneven and erratic, and real questions have emerged about his commitment to the game.

Of course, he ultimately needs to be better than only one other starting quarterback, and if the coach is sufficiently desperate to win, a change could be coming.

Early speculation has centered on the Vikings, where 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder has become the subject of intense scrutiny in his third season. G.M. Rick Spielman, who drafted Ponder, surely would prefer to stay the course. (In other words, Spielman likely has “no intent” to trade for Freeman.) Coach Leslie Frazier, whose contract runs only through 2014, may feel compelled to roll the dice.

Apart from the risks inherent to trusting a guy whom the Bucs ultimately have decided to be untrustworthy is the fact that, the last time Frazier opted for a veteran who wears No. 5, it failed. Badly.

Making Freeman the starter amounts to going all in with Frazier’s job. That’s a huge risk for Frazier to take, especially when so many question marks are lingering regarding Freeman’s fall from grace in Tampa.

There’s a chance someone could be willing to trade for Freeman not to make him the starter, but to simply have him in the building for the balance of the season, watching him work and practice and trying to decide whether he could contend for the starting job in 2014.

With $6.44 million of Freeman’s $8.43 million base salary still unpaid, that’s a huge investment to make now in order to determine whether anohter investment should be made in the future.

Ultimately, that could be the biggest impediment to a deal. If Freeman wants out, he may have to agree to renegotiate his contract -- even though the balance of his salary is essentially guaranteed, given his status as a veteran with four or more years of service.

If the contract keeps Freeman from being traded, the Bucs may simply have to just cut him. Which would then let another team take a short-term flier on a guy who not long ago appeared to be the long-term answer in Tampa.