Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday, around 1:30 PM, Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz reported that the Colts would not be re-signing Dwight Freeney or Austin Collie. Both players are set to become free agents at 4:00 PM on March 12, when the new league year begins.
Both players have given Colts fans some incredible memories, but their situations are very different. We’ll take a look back at each player and at his prospects for the future, and then finish up with a few links to some great video highlights.
Dwight Freeney: Then and Now
Freeney, the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 107.5 (along with 44 forced fumbles) in 11 seasons, was a game changer and a superstar at defensive end and no doubt makes recurring appearances in the nightmares of guys like Matt Schaub, Jeff Fisher, and a whole slew of Jaguars coaches and quarterbacks.
As a rookie prospect, Dwight Freeney’s combine numbers looked more like those of a receiver than a defensive lineman, with a 4.48 second 40 yard dash and a 40 inch vertical jump. He was drafted 11th overall, the first pick of the Tony Dungy era, and began his rookie season as a situational pass rusher, with four sacks in his first eight games.
Midway through the 2002 season, following a three-game losing streak, Dungy inserted Freeney in the starting lineup and never looked back. Freeney racked up another nine sacks and nine forced fumbles the rest of the way, including three in his first start, a blowout win in Philadelphia.
Freeney would continue terrorizing offensive backfields alongside 2003 fifth round pick Robert Mathis for a decade, with the duo referring to themselves as “9398 Bring the Heat Boulevard” amongst teammates. Freeney led the league in sacks in 2004 and earned trips to seven Pro Bowls along with three first team All-Pro selections, establishing himself as an extremely dominant player during his prime.
In his relentless pursuit of quarterbacks, Freeney had a knack for playing well at the biggest of moments, with 43 of those 107.5 sacks in his career coming on third down, along with another on fourth. He could speed rush, bull rush, and yes, spin, forcing opposing offenses to account for his unique disruptiveness at all times and creating opportunities for his teammates along the way.
In 2012, the new coaching staff meant a position change for the veteran defensive end. Slowed by an ankle injury – even unable to execute his patented spin move – for much of the season, Freeney often looked out of place as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
He improved near the end of the season, but playing with a massive cap number in his final year, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless, Freeney showed up, worked, and avoided controversy, knowing he wasn’t likely a part of the team’s long-term plans, which should help him in the eyes of general managers who might be considering his services.
Freeney’s outlook isn’t bad for a player about to turn 33. A veritable square peg in a round hole, he isn’t a good fit in the Colts’ system anymore, but there are teams out there using the 4-3 alignment who could benefit greatly from his pass rush ability, experience, and leadership – especially if he can stay healthy.
He could go the route of Edgerrin James, bringing a winning mentality to a franchise in desperate need of one, or he could take the Peyton Manning road and join a contender for another shot at a ring. Either way, Jim Irsay made it clear we will see Dwight Freeney back in Indy for an induction into the Colts Ring of Honor someday.
Austin Collie: Derailed Potential
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Austin Collie’s story isn’t as rosy as Freeney’s. The Hamilton, Ontario native is a talented, sure-handed receiver who’s incredible, and somewhat surprising, potential has been crushed to this point by a string of injuries that could make even Steve Emtman cringe. The Colts did not release a confirmation that they are indeed letting Collie go, but all signs appear to point in that direction, especially considering Kravitz’s connections.
Collie has hauled in 66.5% of the passes thrown his way in 42 career games, including 60 receptions for 676 yards and 7 touchdowns his rookie year. With injuries to other players expanding Collie’s role, he began his second season on a tear. Through the first six games, he racked up 44 catches for 503 yards and 6 touchdowns. Collie was on pace to finish the season with 117 receptions for 1341 yards and 16 touchdowns.
However, concussions or concussion-like symptoms in his next three games played would change the course of his career. The first and most frightening incident came against Philadelphia on November 7, when he was carried off the field on a stretcher after lying motionless from a brutal hit. After a week off, Collie took a shot against New England that wasn’t officially a concussion and missed four games. He was officially concussed again against the Jaguars in week 15, after catching 8 passes for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns. After appearing in just nine games, the Colts placed him on Injured Reserve.
Collie made it through the dismal 2011 season concussion-free while using a carbon fiber/Kevlar Simpson-Ganassi Helmet designed at a high tech racing equipment facility in Brownsburg, Indiana.
In a 2012 preseason game against the Steelers, Collie suffered yet another concussion, this time on a fairly routine-looking play. He had switched back to a standard football helmet, but with his history of concussions, there may have been no piece of safety equipment that could have prevented his injury. He made it back onto the field in Week 3 but injured his knee after catching what would turn out to be his only regular season pass from Andrew Luck.
Collie’s future in the NFL is uncertain, and many fans and observers have hoped that he might retire for his own well-being. That decision, of course, is his t make, as long as someone will sign him. If he resurfaces with another team in 2013, it most likely will be a one-year, low risk contract. However, there may not be many NFL teams willing to gamble with Collie’s long-term health or use a roster spot on a player who has such history of head injuries.
Austin Collie had the talent to become a very special player before he was besieged by a string of terrible luck. Sadly, in all likelihood, he will be remembered more for his head injuries than his production on the field, a waste of ability no one could have foreseen. Collie seems like the type of guy who will try to make a comeback that nobody could have foreseen. Hopefully, he can do so safely.
As a fan, I will miss Freeney, and I hope he will have at least two or three more years of success somewhere. He is past his prime as an athlete, but he still has quite a bit left to give in the right situation if he so chooses. Thanks for the memories, Dwight. See you at the Ring of Honor ceremony.
And now the highlights.
Dwight Freeney Highlights set to heavy metal music:
Freeney on ESPN’s Sport Science, spins and absolutely clobbers a guy in a football uniform:
Freeney on a very unusual ESPN segment from 2008 called Unmasked. He clearly does not like quarterbacks:
“Rosencopter,” because it’s funny, and 93 was part of the fun:
Collie’s 2010 Highlights:
Collie’s 2009 Rookie Season (with some BYU highlights at the beginning):
And, I’ll leave you with Dwight Freeney in a fake cereal commercial:
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