Sometimes, when you bring back something that’s been gone for a while, it goes poorly.
Ask the folks behind Jurassic Park (and World), the fans of any game show revival ever or Matt Chambers when he cracks out his bucket hat and puka shells to try and “be cool” (Hey, Matt, we still think you’re an All Star. Get your game on. Go, play).
The Atlanta Falcons might want to consider bringing back an old friend, though, considering how the 2017 season has gone.
Thomas Dimitroff, Dan Quinn, and all other Falcons decision makers, lend me your ears!
Call Dwight Freeney and get him to Atlanta after the Patriots game.
Freeney, a future Hall of Famer pass rushing maestro and member of the 2016 Falcons, made an impression on the Atlanta defense, even if you couldn’t always see it on the stat sheet. The veteran notched only three regular season sacks for Atlanta (and one in the Super Bowl), but he gave the team a pretty consistent source of pressure when he was on the field, particularly against the Patriots when other facets of the defense were failing.
He was also an invaluable leader in the locker room, one that Vic Beasley credited as helping him advance his game. No doubt guys like Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby benefitted from having Freeney on their roster.
Right now, the Falcons defense ranks thirteenth in the league through six weeks according to Pro Football Focus, but it’s been a liability in letting up time-eating drives in the last three games. Freeney alone couldn’t fix that with his play, but his leadership might prove invaluable, particularly for the younger guys.
The defensive line in Atlanta has been much better this season. As a unit, it has 12 sacks so far, which is more than the team usually has at this juncture. Reed is stepping up more, rookie Takk McKinley hasn’t been half bad and guys like Clayborn and Shelby have made their presences known. De’Vondre Campbell is also getting more involved on rushing off the edge. Beasley, the league’s sack leader has, as you know, missed two-and-a-half games and was nonexistent Sunday against Miami (though, to be very fair, he was very much not 100%). So, do they need Freeney?
Simply put: you bet’cha.
The Falcons could use one extra rushing body to help rotate on the edges, admittedly, if they’re to really give teams a scare in January (assuming they make it there). McKinley popped up on the injury report Wednesday with a shoulder ailment, hinting he’s not at 100%. As he develops, it also might not hurt to bring Freeney in for a couple of months to help the young guy along. Beasley would also likely benefit from further tutoring, as would Campbell as he further learns his newer roles.
This defense is on the younger side, which is a boost from an energy and speed standpoint, but not exactly from a leadership standpoint. The Falcons are going to be in their fair share of scraps for the rest of the year (particularly with the Saints and Panthers both playing better than they did a year ago). The Birds need guys on this roster to help shepherd them along after tough losses and not get too full of themselves after big wins. After Quinn mentioned he felt the team lacked emotion in the Buffalo loss, you can imagine Freeney would have been one of the first guys he would have gone to for setting a fresh tone after the bye.
Freeney’s social media shows that he’s been staying active and would probably be in good shape to go once called.
Up and down and back again. #grind pic.twitter.com/TSy6DN8DrK— Dwight Freeney (@dwightfreeney) October 18, 2017
Running into the weekend. #FridayThe13th ain't got nothin on me. @proactivesp pic.twitter.com/s1QfSIEwVF— Dwight Freeney (@dwightfreeney) October 13, 2017
Consider what happened with Freeney and the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 – they brought in the veteran in mid-October after he struggled to find a home after being released by the Chargers. He then rattled off eight sacks in eleven games and had three forced fumbles as the Cardinals made it all the way to the NFC Championship.
Having not had to go through training camp and a full season may have helped the then-35-year-old pass rusher be more explosive in his rotational role. Perhaps not having to go through all that would do the same for Freeney this season?
The veteran defensive end is no spring chicken at 37, and would likely want at least $1.5 million for his services (which the Falcons could afford). But, what he could give the Falcons’ pass rush, which is improved but still not a dominant unit, in his play and the team in general from a leadership standpoint makes him someone Atlanta needs to seriously consider bringing in soon.
Freeney could also help pad his sack total in what would likely be his final season. Right now, he’s eighteenth all-time with 122.5 total sacks. With a half-sack more, he would eclipse his old Indianapolis Colts teammate Robert Mathis by a half-sack. He could also, perhaps, pass Hall of Famers Derrick Thomas (126.5 sacks) and Rickey Jackson (128 sacks) if he plays his cards right.
The last we’ve heard, Quinn indicated Freeney is still on the team’s radar.
“He’s definitely somebody that we still talk to on a regular basis,” Quinn told reporters at his September 18 press conference (right after Beasley’s injury). “We’re hopeful that he’s going to play this year, he certainly wants to.”
With Atlanta very much still in the hunt for a trip to Minnesota next year, it’s time to give Freeney a call and have him help get the team where they know they’re capable of going.
Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.