It’s now been four years since the Colts moved on from Dwight Freeney, and they’re still searching for a pass rusher to replace him. Robert Mathis handled the role admirably early on, but now even Mathis is gone.
So the Colts are left without any legitimate pass rush options, with the best being Akeem Ayers. That means that this offseason will see a major emphasis on addressing the pass rush in Indianapolis, likely through the draft and through free agency.
There’s a problem, however: good pass rushers rarely hit the open free agent market. Mario Addison, who recorded 9.5 sacks a year ago, was re-signed this weekend by the Panthers. Kawaan Short, who has recorded 17 sacks over the past two years, received the franchise tag from the Panthers. Chandler Jones, who recorded 11 sacks last year and 12.5 the year before, was tagged by the Cardinals. Jason Pierre Paul, who recorded seven sacks last year, was tagged by the Giants. Melvin Ingram, who has recorded 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons, is expected to be tagged by the Chargers as well. The point is, the Colts may not be able to get a legitimately established pass rusher in his prime in free agency. That’s why the draft is so crucial.
But considering how depleted the Colts are at the position, it would be wise to use both the draft and free agency to address their pass rush need. There are, though, some guys who could be solid secondary options at the position after the top guys have been getting tagged and re-signed.
But if the Colts are looking for a cheaper veteran to add as a situational pass rusher in free agency, there’s actually an intriguing option set to become available: Dwight Freeney. According to the USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, Freeney has decided to play another season and will become a free agent next week.
Now, let’s understand exactly the player Freeney is at this point in his career. He’s not the dominant force that the once was during his time with the Colts, racking up double-digit sack totals in seven of his first nine seasons. But more recently, Freeney has proven to still have some value to teams as a situational pass rusher. With the Chargers for two seasons he managed just four sacks, but he got more pressure than those numbers might indicate. In 2015 he signed on with the Cardinals mid-season, however, and was terrific, racking up 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He signed with the Falcons in 2016 and, though he recorded just three sacks, he still had an impact - for example, in the Super Bowl when Freeney was very disruptive early on.
Gone is Ryan Grigson, who let Freeney walk after the 2012 season, and Chris Ballard is now in charge. Freeney surely won’t be the Colts’ top choice, but if bidding wars start happening for some of the second-tier pass rushers on the market and the Colts don’t want to pay that, Freeney could be a decent fall-back option as a one-year situational guy while they also heavily address the area in the draft. Have Freeney come in and coach up the rookies (like with Vic Beasley last year with the Falcons) while carving out a situational pass rush role. Besides, Freeney wouldn’t be too expensive (he signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Falcons last year).
The biggest problem with that whole idea might actually be Freeney’s willingness to return to Indianapolis. While that would be a nice completion of sorts for his NFL career, I’m sure he’d want to go to a contender and try to win a Super Bowl. Though the Colts do have Andrew Luck, they’re far from a Super Bowl team. Would Freeney really want to sign on with a Colts team that’s a long shot to make a run? That’s probably not likely.
So a reunion with Dwight Freeney is unlikely to happen in Indianapolis this year, but it sounds like Freeney does want to keep playing. And depending on what else happens in free agency, Freeney would be a good fall-back option for Chris Ballard to go after if the Colts don’t get one of the top guys on the market.