Last Thursday, the Broncos had Free Agents Dwight Freeney and John Abraham visit them at Dove Valley. In the midst of all the Elvis Dumervil drama, the Broncos front office knew that there had to be a backup plan just in case Dramavil fell out of love with the Broncos, his teammates, the fans, and the city. Reports on his Ravens contract have been spotty, but the general consensus is 5 years $35 million ($6m/yr average). The Broncos of course had an $8 million per year average contract that he rejected only to accept too late. The Broncos then had a 3 year $18 million offer to him that some reported actually paid him a bit more than the Ravens would early in the contract, yet here we are, looking for a Defensive End because Elvis decided that his word and honor weren't worth very much, so he turned his back on the franchise, his teammates, his fans, and the city.
So here we are, looking for Dumervil's replacement. First on the shopping list is Ex Peyton Manning teammate Dwight Freeney. Here is what we know about Freeney: He's 33 years old (4 years and exactly 1 month older than Doom). He's an 11 year NFL vet, all of which he spent with the Indianapolis Colts. He was drafted in the 1st round (11th overall), and he has made the pro bowl 7 times (including 3 first team All-Pro honors).
So what makes Freeney such a great fit for Denver? First and foremost, he plays the same position as Dumervil, and has been more productive than Dumervil throughout the first 7 years of their careers (Dumervil is a 7 year vet).
Here's a look at Dwight Freeney's career stats:
And here's a look at Dumervil's career stats: (his injured 2010 season was left out)
So as you can see, through their first 6 years, Freeney has been a much more consistent Defensive End than Dumervil. If you take out the low outliers from their sack stats (Freeny in an injury shortened 9 games, and Dumervil with an injury shortened 0 games), than the difference between the two becomes even more clear: Freeney is just plain better than Dumervil. Now, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Freeney has 4 more years than Dumervil, and I would also be mistaken to not point out his last 2 years of down production. So lets take a closer look at these last 2 years of Freeney's career to see if it's a trend, or an aberration shall we?
In 2011, Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to injury. The Colts then went on an almost historic losing streak (thank you Bucs and Lions). The entire Colts team was in disarray and nobody on either side of the ball was very effective. That entire year saw QB after QB get a shot and burn out in flames (or get hurt). The offense couldn't get anything going, and the defense couldn't get off the field in order to catch their breath and get ready for the next series. What I'm trying to say is that the entire 2011 season can and probably should be written off as a mulligan.
In 2012, the Colts' owner Jim Irsay started gutting the Colts in order to rebuild around Andrew Luck. That team struggled, but somehow came together and managed to make the Playoffs. I know what everyone will say, "You can't write off a year in which that team made the playoffs!!!"... or can you? You see, in 2012, the Colts did indeed gut the roster. Irsay created a fire sale the likes of which haven't been seen very often in any sport. We sat by and watched as player after player left. Freeney was a holdover, but only for 1 more year. That year also marked the end of the 4-3 defense that Freeney played his entire career in. Per Brad Wells at Stampede Blue (Colts SBNation site),
Dwight failed to transition from a 4-3 rush defensive end to an outside linebacker last season. In fairness to Dwight, he did everything asked of him and, despite having his worst statistical season of his career, he never complained. He played hard. He played through pain (injured his foot in Week One against the Bears, and the injury lingered all season). He led by example. More importantly, when he lined up and teed off on the quarterback last season, he consistently required a double-team from the opponent's blocking scheme. Freeney is now much better suited as a situational pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme. He cannot drop into coverage, which makes Denver a great fit because they won't ask him to do that. The ideal situation is for Freeney to start, but rotate in and out on plays depending on down and distance. He is still explosive. He can still spin, twirl, and bull rush people. It makes all the sense in the world for Denver to sign him after losing Elvis Dumervil.
Yet despite his lingering injury and change of position, Freeney came on strong and finished with a sack in each of his last 3 games. Denver didn't ask Elvis to drop back into coverage or pick up the run all that frequently, so it isn't exactly a leap to assume that Freeney will be used in the exact same way, which is perfect because that is the type of player that Freeney is, and that is the type of situation that earned him 7 pro bowls and 3 all pro honors! To wrap this piece up nicely, think of it like this, Elvis was no longer the focal point of the pass rush or the defense; Von Miller is. Because offenses need to scheme more for Miller than Dumervil, Dumervil saw less double teams than in years past. Freeney will enter into the same situation that Dumervil has enjoyed. No longer will Freeney be the focal point of the defense, so for the first time in his entire career, he'll see more 1 on 1 schemes and be able to wreak havoc on opposing QBs. If the Broncos are lucky enough to get Freeney, I fully expect his sack numbers to go back to where they belong... Double Digits! I also expect his presence on the field to at least be equal to Dramavil's in the way that he'll be held a lot and draw penalties, and he'll consistently put pressure on the QB and force some bad throws or happy feet that might not be a tangible statistic, but will be a tangible effect on the field. And last but certainly not least.....
Lets hear it in the comments below. Should the Broncos sign Dwight Freeney? Should they look elsewhere such as Abraham or Osi or the Draft? Am I way off base about Freeney's play and the expectations put on him? Lets hear all angles of your thoughts and projections below.