COMMENTARY | Defensive-end-turned-linebacker and fan favorite Dwight Freeney may have played his final down in an Indianapolis Colts uniform, as he joins seven other starters who are free agents at season's end. As difficult as it is to imagine Freeney anywhere but in Indianapolis, his departure may be the next step in the rebuilding process.
In 2011, Freeney tallied just 13 tackles, following that up with only 10 tackles in 2012--posting by far his lowest two totals of his storied career. His five sacks in 2012 were the fewest he has registered since 2007, when he tallied 3.5 sacks in nine games.
Freeney turns 33 years old on Feb. 19, the transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 linebacker wasn't great, and he's likely going to want a lot of money to stay. After all, some team out there that utilizes the 4-3 defense is likely drooling at the chance to sign him.
It's certainly not a done deal, but the writing is on the wall, so Colts fans better start bracing for it.
Fans still remember the painful gutting of the team a year ago. After Bill Polian, Chris Polian, Jim Caldwell and most of the coaching staff were shown the door following the disastrous 2012 campaign, the Colts also released Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt and Curtis Painter in the span of three days last March. Jeff Saturday left the team later in the month as a free agent.
Manning's release sparked the most outrage in Colts Nation, resulting in a whole bunch of new Denver Broncos fans and nearly every Broncos game being televised in the Indianapolis region. Manning adjusted nicely to his new environment and to a year out of football, posting 4,659 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, a 13-3 record, an AFC West title, and a Pro Bowl appearance.
The loss of Manning didn't hurt so much, however, when Andrew Luck finished his rookie season with 4,374 passing yards, 255 rushing yards, 28 total touchdowns, an 11-5 record, a playoff appearance, and a trip to the Pro Bowl. And Luck has a lot more tread left on his tires than does Manning.
Clark went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he started seven games and caught 47 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns. Not bad, but not a real big loss for the Colts.
Saturday moved north to the Green Bay Packers where he struggled for most of the season, was benched near the end of it, and has announced his pending retirement.
Addai briefly hooked up with the New England Patriots but couldn't pass a conditioning test and was cut.
Caldwell, still under the delusion that Painter is an NFL quarterback, took the Purdue product with him to the Baltimore Ravens, but alas, Painter couldn't beat out Tyrod Taylor for the third-string quarterback spot on the team. There's a shocker.
Neither Brackett or Bullitt was signed by another team in 2012.
So when the dust finally settled on all of those fan favorites (plus Painter) who were released by Indianapolis last year, only Manning--and to a much much lesser degree, Clark--had success in 2012. It's safe to say that the Colts did just fine without those guys, too.
That should give Colts fans some faith in the front office when it comes time to evaluate Freeney's role--or lack thereof--with the team in 2013. It's never easy to say goodbye to such a longtime player of Freeney's stature, but if the team decides to let him walk as a free agent, it'll be hard to argue with their decision based on how the cuts of 2012 worked out.