Wanting to Continue, Could Dwight Freeney Make a Colts Comeback?

According to AZCardinals.com, former Indianapolis Colts pass rushing great Dwight Freeney wants to continue his playing career on a contender after a successful 1-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals:

“Appearing on ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter’ today, free agent pass rusher Dwight Freeney said he definitely wants to play this season. Nothing is imminent in terms of signing — with any franchise — although the veteran made clear ‘Arizona would be a great team’.”

“But if it doesn’t work out here, it could be anywhere,”  said Freeney, who is in Arizona right now. “It just depends. It has to be a winning team. I’m used to winning.”

With the Colts clearly still in need of pass rush help, it begs the question of whether arguably the franchise’s all-time greatest pass rusher could make a comeback in Indianapolis.

Ex-Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney, shown celebrating a sack, is looking for a new team. (Photo: Matt Detrich, USA TODAY Sports)

Ex-Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney, shown celebrating a sack, is looking for a new team.
(Photo: Matt Detrich, USA TODAY Sports)

The 14-year veteran is the Colts 2nd all-time career sacks leader with 107.5 career sacks, trailing only his former teammate Robert Mathis. Likewise, he’s also 2nd behind Mathis in forced fumbles with the Colts, having had 43 forced fumbles with the team.

In Indianapolis (2002-12), Freeney was a Super Bowl XLI Champion, 3x 1st-Team All-Pro, 1x 2nd-Team All-Pro, 7x Pro Bowler, AFC Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Sacks Leader, and a member of the NFL 2000s All Decade Team.

Needless to say, after being drafted in the 1st round of the 2002 NFL Draft, he became one of the greatest Colts defensively to don the Horseshoe.

At age 36, Freeney is no longer the dominant every down pass rusher he once was; however, he can still be plenty effective if utilized situationally.

He still has his transcendent spin move after all, which continues to leave bigger offensive tackles clearly befuddled:

(Side note: I’m pretty sure former Baltimore Ravens Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden still has nightmares)

In fact, just last season, Freeney had 8 sacks in 11 regular season games with the Cardinals, as well as a sack in the playoffs. That would’ve been a team-high for the Colts, whose sack leader(s) had 7 sacks.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription), his pass rush grade of 77.1 was the 40th best among pass rushers. To put that in perspective, it was just one spot lower than the Colts very own Trent Cole and also ahead of the Oakland Raiders Aldon Smith respectively. Not necessarily great, but the sack total in limited games still speaks for itself.

Oct 26, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney (left) against the Baltimore Ravens at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Ravens 26-18. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

While the Colts no doubt need to get younger defensively, the team also needs to upgrade their pass rush and no longer has the luxury of the draft to rely upon.

Simply put, the Colts will be hard-pressed to find impact pass rushers this late in the offseason. That is, unless the team really wants to roll the dice on a player with a checkered off-the-field history such as former Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Greg Hardy, which seems highly unlikely.

With the Colts, Freeney was always considered a consummate teammate. However, he struggled transitioning to the team’s new 3-4 defensive scheme as a stand-up pass rushing outside linebacker in 2012 and wasn’t re-signed the following offseason.

While he’s still clearly his best with his hand in the dirt like old times, Freeney is a player the Colts could use as such on obvious passing downs even in their current scheme as a 3-4 defensive end.

Nov 22, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney (54) celebrates a sack against Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

He’s also gained more comfortability playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme, having played the last 3 seasons with both Arizona and San Diego respectively.

The should-be future Hall of Famer and lock for the Colts Ring of Honor would have the opportunity to retire in Horseshoe Blue–something that he’s wanted publicly in the past. Not to mention, the chance to play perhaps on a contending team with a healthy Andrew Luck behind center.

If the price is right, bringing Freeney back could make quite a deal of sense for the Colts. Yes, the defense would only get older–especially pairing Freeney (36) with the likes of Mathis (35) and Cole (33) as aging, past their prime pass rushers.

However, proven pass rushers are always held at a premium, and “beggars can’t be choosers” this late in the offseason. Specifically, when there’s little alternative except to hope that 7th round pick Trevor Bates from Maine or an undrafted free agent can develop into an impact pass rusher from the get-go.

That being said, it still appears unlikely to happen given that the new regime already decided to move on from Freeney in the first place.