Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney is still uncertain of his future, but USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reports that Freeney will play a 16th NFL season. ESPN’s Jim Trotter reported that Freeney hadn’t made a decision, but would “most likely” play in 2017.
Freeney is fresh off of his third Super Bowl appearance, this time with the Atlanta Falcons, where he spent his final season not only contributing on the field, but also mentoring a young defense and helping them develop into contenders. The Falcons came out hot, and led 28-3 in the third quarter before surrendering the biggest Super Bowl collapse in NFL history.
After a standout college career at Syracuse, where he earned unanimous All-American honors, Freeney was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft. Freeney spent the first 11 seasons of his career with the Colts, winning Super Bowl XLI with Indianapolis.
During his time with the Colts, Freeney was named to the Pro Bowl seven times, and he earned first-team All-Pro honors three times. He led the league in sacks in 2004.
After two seasons with the Chargers, Freeney had a short stint with the Arizona Cardinals. An episode of the Amazon series All or Nothing with the Arizona Cardinals illustrated why Freeney has been such a successful edge rusher.
As the Cardinals prepared to face the Green Bay Packers, Freeney explained exactly how he would exploit the weaknesses of tackle Don Barclay. The result in that particular game was three sacks for Freeney, and a 38-8 victory for the Cardinals.
It was a perspective Freeney carried with him to Atlanta, and he helped instill that understanding of the “game within the game” in the Falcons’ young defense. Vic Beasley, Jr., led the league in sacks in 2016, and he credited Freeney with helping him develop.
“Just taking those game plans and executing them on game day, and then the help of Dwight,” Beasley told SB Nation in December. “He’s been a great help for our whole defensive front.”
Freeney will hope to add to his 122.5 career sacks, which places him 18th all-time.
During the week before the Falcons left for Houston to face the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, Freeney said he’d done his best to prepare his young teammates for the Super Bowl experience.
“You can explain it all you want, but there’s nothing like actually experiencing it,” Freeney said. “Running through that tunnel, hearing your team name, seeing the crowd, seeing the flashes on kickoff. I mean, those are the things that you just can’t explain enough for them to really understand. You have to experience them."
Freeney may not be with the Falcons next year as he’s heading for free agency, but it looks like he’s going to give things one more chance.