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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Really saddens me to see Collie's career potentially over before it hardly started. He gave us some really great games, like the AFCCG against the Jets in 2009-10 and the Broncos game in 2010. I guess it's selfish of me to want to see him play again, somewhere, but he was just one of those Colts players we all liked. He didn't celebrate touchdowns, he didn't talk trash, he just did his job day in and day out. Classic Colt.
"Should have chosen 'D.' " The Rosencopter memory is an awesome one. Thanks for putting up that link!
I know that we as fans, are just suppose to be Laundry rooters. It is not suppose to matter who is under the fabric, just that they are sporting the horseshoe. But as I have mentioned before, besides the run of winning seasons, what has made being a Colts fan so great for the last 15 years is that it has truly been an honor to root for the men inside the helmets.
Perhaps, for all the reasons you mentioned, it makes sense to part with Freeney. But I love #93 so much as a fan, I still can't stand it. If Freeney ends up wreeking havoc in New England, i really will not be able to handle it. Peyton was a completely different thing, but Freeney as a Pat would be the last straw.
And maybe I am missing something about Collie. But what risk is there for the Colts to keep him at least through training camp and the preseason and see what happens. It can't be a money issue. I know a lot of Colts fans are just uncomfortable to even see Collie on the field. But in today's climate, Austin knows the risks. If he wants to attempt to continue his career, that is his decision. (And comparing Collie's career stats to Avery, is almost like comparing Luck to Curtis Painter.)
Marcus, Venture a short list of teams that Freeney would be a good fit for or would be interested in him?
Hopefully not in the AFC South.
Denver will likely sign Collie to a one year respectable contract. It is not like Collie has to learn the "Peyton" system. If Collie shows up at training camp in good shape, he is on the team. Then if Collie is able to play at anything close to his previous level, the Broncos will make back half his salary in jersey sales. Collie will be playing in Mormon country's backyard. Collie's family tree includes a bunch of BYU standout athletes including his Dad and Uncle. Austin Collie Mania anyone?
Hopefully, Collie sticks with his custom high tech helmet and is concussion free next year. One more concussion and I think Collie's career is over. At least it should be. It would be great if Collie could earn a Super Bowl ring with Peyton next year and then retire a BYU legend.
Letting Collie go makes sense for the Colts, they will be a contending for their division, but I still think a couple years away from having a shot at the Super Bowl. Even in the best case scenario I doubt Collie has more than a couple of years left in the NFL. The Colts need to focus on developing longer term WR options.
@TheGreatMisdirect I'll miss them both. Collie looked like he was going to have a memorable career before those scary concussions. Apparently, he's planning to play again. He talked to a IndyStar reporter this weekend. http://www.indystar.com/article/20130216/SPORTS03/302160032/Austin-Collie-leaves-Colts-determined-play-NFL-again
@zgs1288 I was at the Jax game where he laid on the field motionless for 5 minutes or so. I was honestly afraid he was dead (as were many of us) and yet some idiot Jaguar fan behind me kept yelling "Yeah! That's how we roll in Jacksonville!"
@DougEngland Turn the question around. Is it really to Collie's advantage to stay with the Colts?
With Indy, Collie has to learn another new system with Pep Hamilton and fight for work out time with Luck coming off a serious injury, although we do hear his knee rehab is going well. If Collie does have a concussion, even a mild one, I bet the Colts would IR him in a heartbeat. Last I doubt Collie would ever had gotten much of a paycheck from the Colts when it is in their interest to develop younger WR with a longer career potential given that the team will not be a Super Bowl contender until 2014 or 2015.
Now if Collie goes to Denver, I am sure Peyton will see that Collie gets a better contact. Collie was a favorite work out partner of Peyton last year when he was rehabilitating his neck. I am sure Peyton would like to return the favor. Collie knows the "Peyton" offense cold. In Denver, Collie will be close to Mormon country. The whole Collie family are BYU legends, so I sure he will be loved. If Collie has a strong comeback he could gather huge fan support across the Rockies among Mormon. Think Collie the Mormon Tebow. Like I said Collie could be worth big money to the Broncos just in jersey sales If Collie suffers a mild concussion Denver is more likely to keep him on the roster in hopes he will be able return to make the playoffs. If Collie is of any help to Denver in winning a Super Bowl, he can retire to Provo or Salt Lake and a own a car dealership, restaurant , insurance agency, real estate firm......
@thellammajockey I've heard New England and NYG. Borne would be close to home for him, and the pats (yuck) have a history of taking a chance on older players. I thought I remembered someone saying Chicago, but I don't honestly know if they're keeping the same defense. It doesn't seem like the Titans would take him unless they're unhappy with Morgan or Wimbley. What do you think?
@thellammajockey I can see Collie going someplace where his durability won't make or break the offense. Denver and New England fit the bill. I'm with you there. I'd like to see him get a chance with the Broncos and Peyton Manning.
This is fine, if behind the scenes Collie has asked for his release and the Colts are adheering to his wishes. But I will admit I don't really know what Collie's contract situation is with the Colts. Still it sounds like to me that the Colts have just given up on Collie, and as far as helping the team get better, a healthy Collie is much better than Avery. (And not that much older.)
After the punishment Collie has taken, I believe -- though he apparently doesn't, and it's his prerogative certainly -- he's damaged goods. I hope he retires. But if not, he won't go to the Pats. Remember, they signed both Gonzalez and Addai, no strangers to injury them, last year and each was gone after a cup of coffee. Far more worrisome would be Freeney. That would be just too cruel. Perish the thought.
@thellammajockey @DougEngland I'd like to see Collie get a chance again if he still wants one. It's hard to say whether or not it would be a safe decision for him. I'll miss both players though. Hopefully neither of them sign with the pats.
@DougEngland Collie signed a 4 year rookie contract that is up. It is likely the Broncos would give him the better deal given Collie's history with Peyton. Denver should have been in the Super Bowl this year and will be a favorite for next.
However, like I said the off field financial opportunities for the BYUer Collie in Denver, or I should say Utah, are huge if Collie contributes towards a Super Bowl win. Collie graduated from BYU as a junior owning almost all the school's receiving records. Next, best thing he could do for the Mormons would be to help Denver win a Super Bowl.
@Lell87 @MarcusDugan Dallas is moving back to 4-3. Maybe the ghost of Tom Landry spoke to Jerry Jones in the middle of the night and convinced him he was never going to win another Super Bowl unless he went back to the 4-3.
But, Freeney did have some awesome strip sacks against Eli . Maybe the Giants were impressed.
Any team outside of the AFC South and New England would be ok with me.