There has been a lot of talk recently about free agent pass rusher Dwight Freeney. The veteran is out of work and looking to continue playing in 2016, and there are a lot of teams in the NFL that could use pass rush help - though perhaps none more so than his former team, the Indianapolis Colts.
We got out front of the discussion last week when we posted the question of whether the Colts should sign Freeney, and since then the conversation has just continued to take off. The response from Colts fans has been overwhelmingly in support of bringing back Freeney, as 85% of people who voted in our poll were in favor of it (and that percentage seems in line with what I've heard from other Colts fans through tweets, Facebook comments, emails, etc.).
I am fully in agreement with that 85%, as I think that Dwight Freeney could absolutely help the Colts and that there's really no reason not to at least give him a shot. The Colts need pass rush help, and they didn't add much through free agency or the draft yet this offseason. Ideally, they would have grabbed a talented young pass rusher or two in the draft to both produce now and develop, but that didn't happen. Yeah, they added Trevor Bates in the seventh round and Ron Thompson and Curt Maggitt as undrafted free agents, but seventh rounders and undrafted players don't count as adequately addressing an issue (at least certainly not right now when it's all about projection, not reaction). I do have some confidence in Robert Mathis to give the team solid pass rush production in a situational role (similar to last year, though perhaps even slightly better), but after that the Colts are left to hoping that Trent Cole can bounce back, non-pass rush specialists can step up (like Erik Walden or defensive linemen), or some of the rookies stun everyone and produce. None of that is particularly inspiring right now, and the Colts seem to realize it. Chuck Pagano mentioned after the draft that the Colts will be able to scheme pass rush thanks to their coaching staff, and that sent the message loud and clear: even the Colts realize the talent at the position isn't entirely great, though they're hoping their game-planning and defensive scheming can make up for it.
The Colts didn't add that younger contributor this offseason as they opted to address other needs (like the offensive line and cornerback), so that means that one-year options could (and should) become more attractive. That would allow the team to still address the position next offseason with younger talent but at the same time address it now as well. And the best option on the market right now is Dwight Freeney, who proved he could still play by racking up eight sacks and three forced fumbles in eleven games with the Cardinals (he added another sack in the playoffs, too). That was after a couple of seasons with the Chargers that saw mixed success and after a decade in Indianapolis that saw Freeney record 107.5 sacks and 44 forced fumbles. Freeney showed last year with the Cardinals that he still can be a situational pass rusher and that he can play in a 3-4 system.
For the Colts, then, doesn't it seem to make all of the sense in the world? They have a huge question mark at pass rush, and there's a guy on the market who could probably come relatively cheap (at least compared to other pass rushers in free agency) and showed last year that he can still play. On top of that, it's one of the greatest players in Colts history and would allow Freeney to (likely) end his career in the same place it began. Even if Freeney doesn't turn out to have much left in the tank, the Colts wouldn't have lost much by giving him a shot and seeing what he can do. In other words, the potential payoff is more than worth the risk of it not working out on a one-year deal.
So why wouldn't it happen? One of the only reasons I can think of is pride. It's safe to say that Freeney's tenure with the Colts didn't exactly end too well. Freeney wanted to sign a new contract with the team following the 2012 season that would allow him to play a few more years and then retire with the team that drafted him, and he said he was even willing to take less money (a hometown discount) to make it happen. "I'll be honest with you: I was surprised the way it happened," Freeney told the Indianapolis Star at the time. "I figured they would offer me something low and I would just accept it, go the last few years and retire a Colt."
It turns out, however, that the Colts didn't even offer Freeney a contract. Perhaps they thought their offer would be insultingly low, but in reality their lack of an offer wound up insulting the pass rusher. Freeney told Sports Illustrated at the time that being able to stick with the Colts and retire with them was "something that meant a lot to me," but their lack of an offer at all "cut me deep." He said that the team's lack of an offer told him that it was about more than money and that it was rather that they thought he was washed up.
The only reasons that I can think of why the Colts wouldn't give Freeney a shot are either 1) due to money, or 2) due to pride. I don't know what Freeney is asking, but I'd assume it can't be unreasonably high for a 36-year old pass rusher still looking for work in May. That means the much more likely holdup to a potential Colts/Freeney reunion would be the second reason: either the Colts wouldn't want to bring Freeney back and in doing so seemingly admit a mistake, or Freeney wouldn't want to come back to a team and front office that he felt disrespected by. I don't know if that's the holdup for a potential deal, but I think it's the only one that makes sense for a team desperately lacking pass rush. I can't say for sure whether pride is getting in the way of a deal, but it is at least plausible that neither side is too eager to reunite. In other words? There's really no good reason for it not to happen.
I don't expect a Dwight Freeney signing by the Colts. With the way things ended in Indianapolis, I wouldn't hold my breath on things suddenly being made right and a reunion happening. But I can say that I'm definitively of the opinion that the move should happen. Worst case scenario? Freeney doesn't work out, the Colts wasted a one-year deal and a few million dollars, and Freeney quietly retires as a member of the Colts. Best case scenario? Freeney provides a huge boost to a position that desperately needs it. I think that potential payoff is more than worth a shot.