INDIANAPOLIS – Dwight Freeney's days are likely numbered in Indianapolis and he realizes it. That doesn't mean he's slowing down.
“I'm 32 years old, turning 33 (in February), going into my 12th year,” Freeney said. “Numbers are not the best, making a lot of money – that's not really a good combination for staying in an organization. That being said, I've done a lot. We'll see what happens at the end of the year. I can only do as much as I can.”
Let's start with the photo album: Freeney is the greatest defensive player in Indianapolis Colts history. No one's been more productive. No one's been more disruptive. No one has generated as many opposing game plans. For a decade, Freeney was the Colts defense just as Peyton Manning was the Colts offense.
Now click on Instagram: Freeney has seven tackles and two sacks in 2012.
He almost seems like a legendary movie star making a guest appearance in a next-generation sequel.
“It's been different, I will say,” Freeney said. “I was so used to Edgerrin (James) being there. Marvin (Harrison) being here. Peyton being right there, Tarik Glenn. That's the realm my mind was always in.
“Walking in here now, you still have some familiar faces – Robert (Mathis) and Reggie (Wayne), Antoine Bethea. But it's definitely a different experience. Guys are calling me 'Old Head,' 'Grandpa,' one of those.”
Freeney steps back, considers his age and NFL years, and concedes that, yes, he is Grandpa in those terms.
“Some of these kids, when they were in middle school, I was in my rookie year,” he said.
Many observers figured Freeney was bound to be ushered out with the core group where he made his mark, along with Manning, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Gary Brackett, Joseph Addai, etc. The team was changing defenses, from the 4-3 of Freeney's first 10 seasons to a 3-4 this year. He would need to switch from defensive end to outside linebacker, take an upright stance, drop back in coverage. In many ways, he'd need to learn a foreign language.
Plus, Freeney's salary was so huge and the salary cap hit so brutal, most figured the Colts would try to move him in a deal or even release him outright. If Manning can be released, anyone can be released.
Instead, the Colts kept him. And after missing time with a high ankle sprain, it took time to regain his quickness. His numbers heading into a game Sunday at Houston are the lowest of his career.
Freeney would argue, with convincing logic, that numbers don't tell the story. Offenses still game plan to deal with Freeney and Mathis. Quarterbacks know they can't hold onto the ball too long. Offensive linemen still find him and target him.
Freeney tries not to dwell on his lack of numbers, but it's not always easy for a man who has the most sacks in Colts history (104.5) and seven seasons of 10 or more.
“It affects you just a little,” he said. “I've always said, (a sack) is the treasure at the end of the rainbow. You grind, you grind, you grind. If you were a pet, it's like you did something good, you get a little treat. 'Here you go.' That's kind of what numbers are or sacks are.”
Freeney went back and watched some video of his play in games from 2007 to 2009. He wasn't looking for sacks. He was looking for how active he played on the field. His movement. His speed.
He compared it to this year and, frankly, doesn't see a whole lot of difference.
“The opportunities haven't been there,” Freeney said. “If the quarterback holds onto the ball for three seconds and throws the ball, regardless of if a lineman is there or not, I'm not going to get there. If he holds it four or five seconds …
“Most teams in the NFL hold the ball for four or five seconds 10 or 15 times out of 35. For us, it's been about four passes a game.”
“If it translates to zero numbers, it is what it is,” he said. “As long as we're winning games, it feels a lot better than if you're not.”
For all the changes, Freeney likes his strange new team. He praises management for making the right offseason moves, suggesting general manager Ryan Grigson deserves the executive of the year award. He likes what he sees in rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, especially his fight and ability to bounce back from mistakes.
“We have a team made up of first- and second-year guys and some older guys,” Freeney said. “The 53 guys who are on the active roster all serve their purpose. All of those guys have done a tremendous job.”
The prospects for the season have changed, obviously, as the Colts are in position to make the playoffs and still have a shot at an AFC South title, although that seems like a longer shot.
“It's a big difference between this year and last year,” Freeney said. “This year, it's winning games and being able to go out and do what you love. Play big games, play in the playoffs – hopefully we'll get there – and hopefully go for the big one.”
Freeney is likely on his way out after the season.
Statistics or not, he's going out with his spirits up, his spin move intact and legacy already cemented.