The rebuilding Indianapolis Colts have reportedly considered the idea of trading defensive end Dwight Freeney for the better part of the last two months. But if the 32-year-old is going to embrace his new role in the team's 3-4 defense as well as he seems to be now, GM Ryan Grigson should end his interest in dealing one of the Colts' longest-tenured players.
Speaking with Alex Marvez of FOX Sports on Sirius XM Radio this week, Freeney seemed content with the changes in Indianapolis. The idea of leaving the only organization he's ever known didn't sound high on his list, either.
I'm kind of old-school when it comes to that thought. I'm not LeBron trying to leave the team. I'm more like the era of Magic and (New York Giants linebacker) Lawrence Taylor, who stayed with that same team for their entire careers win, lose or draw. They were married to the city they were drafted in. You go through the tough times and great times with them, and that's it. That's what I'm looking forward to.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the Colts' interest in trading Freeney in early March, stating the team was fielding calls from teams interested in making a move. No deal came to fruition, and the rumors soon cooled.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated then brought the idea back into the limelight last week when he reported that the Colts would "love" to get a draft pick or two in a deal for Freeney. The draft came and went with no trade.
Whether there is truth to the rumors or not, making a move does have its merits for Indianapolis.
Freeney will make a whopping $14 million in base salary in 2012, and he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after next season. The time for getting compensation in return for Freeney would be now—not later.
The Colts are also in transition on defense, with new head coach Chuck Pagano bringing the 3-4 defense with him to Indianapolis from Baltimore. Freeney, a traditional 4-3 defensive end, may not be an ideal fit for the team's new defensive front.
Freeney didn't seem worried about making the transition, however.
For me, it's just getting familiar with all those nuances. My line of sight, walking around (pre-snap), dropping into coverage — I'm doing those things. It's going to take a little time at the beginning to get used to and as comfortable as I have been having my hand in the ground (at end) and being in one position.
In fact, Pagano told Dan Pompei of the National Football Post as much before the draft.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano tells me he envisions Freeney is a very similar role to the one Terrell Suggs plays for the Ravens. The former Baltimore defensive coordinator estimates Suggs has dropped between five and 10 percent of the time, as will Freeney. "Suggs' hand is in the dirt way more than he is standing up," Pagano said. "I'd be crazy to have those guys dropping more than rushing…. If I dropped Suggs too much, they probably would have fired me midseason."
In 2011, the one year Pagano was the defensive coordinator for the Ravens, Suggs registered 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. He was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
Freeney may not approach those numbers with the Colts next season, but it's clear that Pagano knows how to employ defensive players with the kind of special skill sets Suggs and Freeney so clearly possess.
With that in mind, the only driving force for a potential trade would appear to be the money owed to Freeney. But the Colts aren't exactly cash-strapped for the 2012 season, and the team won't be on the hook for any money for anything beyond next year.
Should GM Ryan Grigson trade defensive end Dwight Freeney?
Stomaching the $14 million paycheck for 2012 would also give the Colts an opportunity to be in the driver's seat for a potential re-signing of Freeney during or after the season, likely at a price well below the cap number he holds now.
And even in rebuilding mode, Grigson also has to keep the Colts locker room in mind when making this decision. The team already jettisoned the city's golden child in Peyton Manning this offseason, and cutting through another pillar of the organization would be a crushing blow to a team that is still mending broken hearts.
No one would chastise Grigson if he found a trade for Freeney that fits in terms of compensation. But the first-year GM is better off keeping the veteran defensive end on the roster. Freeney is happy and wants to be in Indianapolis, and his coach could make the transition into the 3-4 an easy one.
While Freeney may not lead the Colts' revival in the Andrew Luck era, the team should ensure that he's a part of the beginning of the process.