After 11 seasons, 107.5 sacks, and a Super Bowl title, the Indianapolis Colts decided to part ways with defensive end Dwight Freeney.
The Colts announced Friday that they had informed the seven-time Pro Bowler they would not renew his contract.
The 32-year-old spent his entire career with the Colts, but much of the NFL learned that Indianapolis can give up on an older player a little too soon, as evidenced by Peyton Manning’s rejuvenation with the Denver Broncos this past season.
Freeney’s veteran leadership and decade of experience may be a solid addition to the Dallas Cowboys, who are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
The Colts run a 3-4 defense, but Freeney has been labeled a 4-3 defensive end, and yet he still excelled. He is currently fifth amongst active players on the all-time sack list, and 21st overall. Freeney is just behind current Cowboy linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
Freeney has the shown the ability to play outside of his comfort zone and Dallas needs help across the board on defense. The Cowboys were 19th against the pass, which could be attributed by their failure to pressure the quarterback. Dallas was ranked 20th overall with 34 sacks.
Ware may need time to adjust to Kiffin’s new 3-4 system. Since Dallas selected him 11th overall in 2005, the Cowboys have built around Ware and only within the 3-4, and while he stated publicly he was open to the switch, having a veteran defensive end more naturally suited to the scheme could make the transition simpler.
Cowboys defensive line coach Rod Marinelli reportedly suggested Ware may actually improve his production in the 4-3, as he will switch to defensive end.
“I think it’ll aid him a little bit, because your takeoff is better,” Marinelli said to the Dallas Morning News. “Your keys are a little more consistent with what you’re doing. That’s my opinion. I see him, I mean he’s an elite rusher right now. I just think the more opportunity he has, doing the same things every day, every week, the repetition, which allows you to become even faster. The sky is the limit for him, I believe.”
Freeney could also open up lanes for linebacker Anthony Spencer, who picked up the slack while Ware played through several injuries last season. Spencer was second on the team with 11 sacks last year, nearly doubling his career-best, and is a free agent this season.
However, Spencer could prove too expensive for Dallas. The Cowboys are already $20 million over the salary cap, and earlier this week said they were working on a contract extension for quarterback Tony Romo.
Freeney made $14 million in base salary last season with the Colts, and while he can expect a pay cut due to his advanced age, he may not drop his price enough for Dallas. Still should Spencer bolt to the highest bidder, Freeney may be a good second, slightly cheaper, option for the Cowboys' pass rush.