The Indianapolis Colts announced yesterday that they will part ways with former All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney after 11 seasons with the organization. At age 32, Freeney is expected to be coveted on the open market by a handful of teams that are in need of a situational pass-rusher.
At this point in his career, the likelihood is that Freeney will attempt to sign with a contending team and compete for a championship before hanging up the cleats.
What team could be in the market for Freeney? Here are five teams that could benefit from signing the veteran pass-rusher.
The Dallas Cowboys prioritized making changes in the offseason, and changing part of the defensive philosophy was key. Rob Ryan is no longer a part of the equation, and some older veterans could be on the way out.
With Freeney now available on the market, the Cowboys should consider offering a deal to the seven-time Pro-Bowler. Freeney proved not to be a fit in a 3-4 scheme, but could be an ideal solution in a 4-3 defense of a Tampa 2 scheme that new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin runs.
An option for Jerry Jones could be not resigning Anthony Spencer and replacing him with Freeney, who at age 32 won't command a long term deal on the open market.
The Buccaneers ended the season with a spiral collapse for the second straight season. While the offense showed its consistencies, the defense was one of the worst units in the entire league.
Certainly, an upgrade is needed at pass-rush, where the inconsistent play from the likes of Gerald McCoy and the other young pass-rushers really hurt the team.
Although the Buccaneers aren't viewed as an ideal playoff contender right now, the return of key contributors on offense makes the team a threat in the NFC. The primary focus should be improving the defense as a whole, but a cheap option in Freeney could be worthwhile for Greg Schiano's team.
The Patriots appear to have their name mentioned around every notable defensive free agent this offseason. That is a result of a defense that simply hasn't played well when it matters.
New England's defensive front was a non-factor in their loss against the Ravens in the AFC Title game. While rookie Chandler Jones wasn't at full strength, the lack of a pass rush was a problem against elite teams all season along.
The lack of pass rush ultimately forced Bill Belichick to blitz at a high percentage throughout the year. Freeney could be an option that the Patriots could look to pursue in free agency. A veteran pass-rusher with championship experience and the ability to accept his role on a contending team.
The Falcons came up one game short of a Super Bowl appearance, and this offseason will be crucial to keep this contending team intact. Atlanta appears ready to make some change on the defensive side of the field by cutting back and finding cheaper options that can fill the void.
Atlanta's defensive line needs to find more consistency in the pass-rush, especially since John Abraham is not always reliable due to his injury history. Freeney could be an ideal fit in a defense run by Mike Nolan, who has worked with some elite pass-rushers during his tenure in the league.
The deal could fit the Falcons priority of finding a short term answer at a relatively fair price. This team has built quite a strong locker room with plenty of veterans who focus on improving their productivity each week. Freeney could fit very well as a primary pass rusher.
The Seahawks are displaying the potential of becoming a consistent contender for an extended period of time in the NFC. In 2013, a Super Bowl contender should not be out of the question. Their offense will only improve with the young signal caller, and upgrades in free agency could significantly improve that unit.
However, Seattle should look to add Freeney to improve a defense that is already elite. The biggest concern is the Seahawks pass-rush, which is especially true considering that Chris Clemons may not return to his dominant form right away after tearing his ACL last month.
Freeney could find the most opportunity to play on a consistent basis with the Seahawks. Bruce Irvin showed promise in his rookie season, but may not necessarily become ready to handle an increase in playing time the entire season.
The acquisition of Freeney could erase a glaring weakness heading into next season. If Clemons does manage to return quicker than expected, the veteran duo could elevate this defense into becoming the best in the entire league.
Matt Miselis is an NFL Featured Columnist for BleacherReport. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL