Another year, another Colts legend. Gone. As Colts fans, it’s easy to forget that the NFL is a business. And as much as it hurts to say goodbye to those who have brought us so much joy, it is a fact of life we must inevitably face from time to time.
The Indianapolis Colts will not be re-signing Dwight Freeney. In a text message to ESPN’s Ed Werder, Freeney said, “I was very surprised to hear they wanted to go in a different direction. It would have been nice to retire a Colt … My plan is to hit the free-agent market and see who has interest.”
While it is sad to see a player like Freeney go, the time had come. His production had been on a gradual decline over the past 3 years, and his 5 sacks last season were his lowest total since 2007. Of course, it didn’t help that he was asked to play outside linebacker in a new 3-4 defensive scheme under first-year head coach Chuck Pagano. After playing 9 seasons as a situational edge pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment, the he was simply not well suited to the outside linebacker position and it really showed.
Freeney is the Colts’ career sacks leader with 107½ credited to him through the 2012-2013 season. Since being drafted in 2002 under the Polian regime, he has been one of the most disruptive players, if not THE most disruptive, at his position. Despite playing only half a season, he still set a new franchise record of 13 sacks his rookie season, and was named the AFC’s defensive rookie of the month in November AND December. He came in a close second place to Julius Peppers for defensive rookie of the year. He was the only Colts player to win a league sacks title in 2004. And his seven Pro Bowl appearances are exceeded by only Peyton Manning (11), Gino Marchetti (10), John Unitas (10) and Jim Parker (8).
There is a line that players cross to go from good to great, and Freeney crossed that line a long time ago. You know you’re dealing with a great player when opposing teams have to plan a game around him, and such was case with Freeney.
Colts owner Jim Irsay said, “Few people have meant as much to the success of the Indianapolis Colts as Dwight Freeney. He has been a dominant player, which is all the more impressive considering his size for his position, and he has won a lot of games for this franchise. Dwight was an artist, a joy to watch, and the dedication he put toward his craft was a rare quality. We will miss him, but look forward to his future induction into the Hall of Fame and Colts Ring of Honor.”
He was most known for his signature spin move. Others tried to emulate it but it’s pretty hard to beat the genuine article. In his prime, he terrorized opposing linemen with his explosiveness off the edge. And when he wasn’t faking out opponents with his spin move, he was flat out beating them around the back, or even running right through them with an unstoppable bull rush. Even double-teams often failed to stop him. But he was not JUST sacking the quarterback. He led the league in sack-strips, with 44 forced fumbles. Combine Freeney with bookend Robert Mathis and you had a one-two knockout punch in passing situations.
He will hit the free agent market as an unrestricted free agent on March 15, 2013. While some NFL analysts have called into question his age and declining stats, there will be no shortage of teams willing to take a chance on him. In all likelihood, he has plenty left in the tank, and given another chance to play his natural position in a 4-3 scheme, he will again flourish. ESPN writer John Clayton has speculated that Freeney could wind up in a Seahawks uniform next season. This is a move that actually makes a lot of sense, at least if you’re a Seahawks fan. Seattle surprised many prognosticators last year. With their 4th ranked defense and 3rd ranked rushing attack they managed just 5 losses. History has shown how a single player can take over a game. A player like Freeney could prove pivotal to a Super Bowl run by the Seahawks in the coming season.
It’s not so much a question of WHETHER teams will be interested in Freeney’s services, but HOW MUCH they will be willing to pay. His 2012 base salary was more than $14 million, and that will be hard, if not impossible, to top.
One thing’s for sure: Fans are going to miss his trademark salute and all it implied. Freeney was not only a cornerstone of the Colts’ defense, he was a high-character member of the Indianapolis community who always took time to talk to the media and fans. He will be sorely missed.