He was limping.
The Indianapolis Colts were two minutes from a Super Bowl, and Dwight Freeney came hobbling off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts' chances to stop Drew Brees hobbled off with him. The game wouldn't be played for two more weeks, but when the best pass-rusher in team history turned his ankle, the Colts lost the Super Bowl.
No player this side of Peyton Manning meant more to the week-in, week-out chances for the Colts to win than Freeney did. Now, he is the NFL's highest-paid player, according to Forbes Magazine. He is also 32 years old, playing in a new defensive system he's not built for, and for a team that won't sniff .500.
Cut day is typically a nervous time for younger players, but for a veteran like Freeney, it could signal the end of his time with the Colts.
Freeney already knows he's not a part of the future for the Colts. They've shown no interest in signing him to a long-term deal. His preseason play has been quiet in limited action with no sacks and only a single pressure to his credit.
If he is on the roster come 4 p.m. on August 31, he is guaranteed $14 million.
While that's money that he's certainly owed for years of stalwart service, it's money he's unlikely to be worth in 2012.
The Colts have four options when it comes to Freeney.
They can keep him, massively overpaying for his play. Even those who still believe Freeney can be a dominant player in Chuck Pagano's system will admit he's unlikely to be worth the highest salary in the NFL. Fans don't care about real dollars because they aren't paying them, but it's a hefty chunk of change to lay out for a player unlikely to perform to that level.
They can trade him, a problematic option due to that same hefty contract. Any team that would deal for Freeney could likely only fit him under its cap if it renegotiates a new deal. That's a lot of heavy lifting to do in 24 hours.
They can cut him.
It hardly seems right to dump a legend at the deadline, but doing so saves a massive amount of money.
The fourth option is risky as well. The Colts can hold Freeney and hope to deal him close to the deadline. This would guarantee Freeney's salary for the year, but it would give Indianapolis time to find him a new landing spot as teams get more desperate. That new team would be locked into paying Freeney the pro-rated amount left on his deal, however.
Whatever the Colts land in a trade, be it sooner or later, would be modest at best. Even a fifth-round pick would be a good haul.
The Colts are out of time, but not out of options with Freeney. What they ought to do is part ways with the most feared pass-rusher of his day and later repay him by hanging his jersey number from the rafters.
Ceremonies are a lot cheaper than $14 million.