For the first time in his 11-year career, Dwight Freeney is a free agent. Age and a shift in defensive schemes made it easier for the Indianapolis Colts to say goodbye to their all-time leader in sacks (107.5).
At 33 years old, Freeney is past the prime of his career. He doesn't have that same explosive burst off the edge that made him one of the most-feared edge-rushers in the NFL, but he can still be a productive player in the right system. He is just one year removed from recording 8.5 sacks.
With teams always looking for help on the defensive line, the market for Freeney should be big. The Colts have made it known that they have no intention of re-signing the three-time All-Pro.
Here are the latest rumors surrounding Freeney as he prepares to hit the open market when free agency begins on March 4.
The Falcons did their share of housecleaning, releasing Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson and John Abraham.
Even if Abraham, who led the team with 10 sacks, hadn't been cut, the Falcons would still be looking to upgrade their pass rush. They finished 28th in sacks last season and had no depth up front.
According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Falcons have discussed Freeney as a potential option to play on their defensive line.
After the Ray Edwards debacle — $27.5 million contract, $11 million guaranteed, virtually no return — the Falcons will be extremely selective in free agency. They have discussed adding defensive linemen Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora.
Despite his age, and fact the Falcons have been burned in the past, Freeney would be a good fit for this defense. Above everything else, he has to find a team that utilizes the 4-3 scheme.
Price is going to be everything for the Falcons, who reportedly got $15.9 million under the salary cap after releasing Turner, Robinson and Abraham. Freeney still has the talent to command a good salary but could be looking at a situation that provides him with the best chance to win.
The Falcons were up 17-0 in the NFC Championship game against San Francisco before letting the lead slip in the second half. It's hard to find a better situation to walk into than that.
Freeney and Peyton Manning know each other quite well, so it should not come as a shock that Manning reached out to his former teammate after the Colts announced they wouldn't bring him back.
In an interview on a Cleveland radio station (via SportsRadioInterviews.com), Freeney said that Manning sent him a text but didn't seem ready to commit to the idea that it was a real offer.
That was more of a friend text: ‘Sorry to hear what happened to you in Indianapolis. Hey, come play with us. We’d love to have you.’ So one of those. I don’t know exactly what’s going to be happening here. This is a new process for me.
There likely wouldn't be many snaps available for Freeney with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller coming off the edge for the Denver Broncos. Freeney has also never played home games outdoors in a cold-weather city, so that could be a factor he considers when deciding what to do.
New York Giants
As mentioned in the part about Freeney and the Falcons, the New York Giants will have a slot on the defensive line opening up with Osi Umenyiora not likely to be brought back.
Freeney was interviewed by Adam Schein of Sirius XM Radio days after the Colts announced he would not return to them next season and had some interesting comments about what playing for the Giants would mean to him.
Adam Schein @AdamSchein
Freeney grew up a Giants fan. He says "playing in New York would be attractive...playing for them would be a dream." #SXMBLITZ2/20/2013, 6:53:06 PM
The Giants may not feel a need to go shopping for a defensive end this offseason. They could go after one in the draft, or because they have plenty of depth at that spot already, just feel confident with what they have and use financial resources to address other problem areas (cornerback).
Aside from the obvious New York connection because he played at Syracuse, Freeney doesn't appear to be a great fit for the Giants at this point in his career.
New York Jets
Speaking of New York, that other team in the city also appears to be on Freeney's short list of candidates.
Obviously playing in New York, that is obviously something that’s very attractive. Scheme-wise, I’m sure Rex knows how to free guys up. That would be a good fit but a lot of teams would be a good fit.
The Jets need all sorts of help. The defensive line is a mess, the offense is a disaster, and there appears to be no stability anywhere. Considering how far away they are from competing, not to mention Freeney's age, he might not want to wait until they get good again.
But sometimes beggars cannot afford to be choosers. If Freeney's market doesn't materialize the way we think, he might be stuck in a situation where he has to go to a rebuilding situation and be a one-year stop gap to reestablish value for 2014.