On Freeney and the Hall

With CBA news still swirling, today may be the last chance for a while to talk about non-pressing issues. Today, reader Ben F. chimes in with a defense of Dwight Freeney‘s Hall of Fame case. My thoughts appear after the jump.

I know that it’s premature to judge Dwight Freeney’s career. But as he is, right now, regardless of what he’s destined to do, he’s a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, and anyone who argues otherwise doesn’t know ANYTHING about football.

He has been, since he entered the NFL, the scourge of left tackles and defensive coordinators everywhere. He is as feared by his competitors (NFL 2000s All-Decade Team; Ranked  15th in NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2011) as he is admired by the media (4-time All-Pro selection; AFC Defensive Player of the Year 2005) as he is adored by the fans (6-time Pro-Bowl selection). Who got the only sack in Super Bowl XLIV? Dwight Freeney, playing on one (expletive) leg.

Dwight Freeney is the grease that makes the Indy defense work. Without him, the defense couldn’t stop a crumpled-up piece of newspaper. Furthermore, he is a terror around the league.  For example, if you asked Peyton which DE he fears the most, he probably wouldn’t have a good answer. That’s because the most feared DE in the league plays for his team. Tom Brady and 30 other guys would say “Dwight Freeney”. His trademark spin has revolutionized the position, yet is immune to imitation. In that sense, he’s sort of like a Wilt Chamberlain: he’s successful because he can do things no-one else can.  He has been a consistent producer for going on a decade, and he’s six sacks away from 100 after only nine years in the league.

He checks all the boxes. Has he ever led the league in sacks? Yes, in 2004, with 16. How many years has he had ten or more sacks? Seven of nine so far. Super Bowl ring? Got that, and two appearances in which he played vital roles. In addition, he is simply The MASTER of the sack-fumble; he’s forced 40 fumbles in his career. How many did the newly-enshrined Richard Dent force in his 15-year, 137.5-sack career? Only 37. Heck, Reggie White only forced 33 in his whole career!

I could go on and on about what a crucial, important, and special player 93 is (just ask my wife). But I think you get my point. Which is, if Dwight Freeney isn’t wearing a golden jacket five years to the day from when he retires, it will be a massive injustice, no matter WHAT happens between then and now.

As an addendum, I’d like to point out that as Dwight is clearly a HoF DE, he ought to have a good shot at sustaining the kind of long, productive careers that is typical of other HoF DEs. I think we can still expect a good future for him, especially because he heals fast and keeps himself in peak physical condition.

While I admire Ben’s passion, I have to disagree with him.

Dwight Freeney is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but he has not arrived yet.

While everything Ben said of Freeney is true, his career lacks the kind of volume depth that punches tickets for Canton. That is to say, Freeney has had the right kind of peak, but especially for defensive players, it requires peak and longevity to make the Hall of Fame.

It is my belief that Freeney needs at least 30-40 more sacks in his career to reach the level necessary for enshrinement. Check out the career leaders in sacks on Pro Football Reference. The following names leap off the page:

Kevin Greene (5 PB, 2 AP), Indy native Chris Doleman (8 PB, 2 AP), Leslie O’Neal (6 PB), Neil Smith (6 PB, 1 AP)

I’m not even going to talk guys like Strahan, Taylor and Porter who aren’t eligible yet.  There are plenty of guys who not only have similar resumes to Freeney in terms of post-season honors, but ALSO have more than 120 sacks. None of those guys are in the Hall of Fame yet, and I don’t see Freeney leapfrogging them unless he picks up a lot more sacks before he’s done.

The simple fact is that Freeney’s odds of enshrinement will skyrocket if he gets 40 more sacks to break into the top 10 all time. If he only gets 30 more, he’d finish around 125, good for 12th. He essentially has to get at least that far up the list to get serious consideration.

Ben is right about Freeney, but wrong about what it takes to get into the Hall. 

The good news is that 31 is not old for a defensive end. Freeney still should have five or so seasons left of productive play. If two or three are at a Pro Bowl level, he should get very close to the threshold for enshrinement.