The Indianapolis Colts were a dominant force in the 2000s, missing the playoffs just once from 2000 to 2010. We all remember quarterback Peyton Manning as the face of those teams, but it's tough to win in the NFL with a purely one-dimensional roster, and Manning certainly had some help on the defensive side of the ball—namely from defensive end Dwight Freeney, who announced his retirement Thursday after 16 NFL seasons. He'll sign a one-day contract with Indianapolis to retire with the team that drafted him.
Freeney joined the Colts as an 11th overall draft pick in 2002, a year after they ranked 31st in points allowed and missed the playoffs with a 6-10 record. In Freeney's debut NFL campaign, he racked up 13.0 sacks, helping the Colts defense go from worst in points allowed to seventh-best. The team then made the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, with the defense finishing top-10 in scoring five times. Freeney notched double-digit sacks in all but two of those seasons, one of which was shortened to nine games due to an injury.
By the time Manning left the Colts in 2012, Freeney was just about done in Indianapolis as well. After a 2-14 campaign in 2012, a 33-year-old Freeney took his veteran talent elsewhere. He bounced around throughout the rest of his career, playing for the San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, and Seattle Seahawks. He was no longer a defensive cornerstone after his Colts tenure, but Freeney still made an impact as a situational pass-rusher—he tallied 18.0 sacks in 55 games after leaving the Colts despite making just 14 starts.
Now that it's all said and done, Freeney wraps up his career with 125.5 sacks—good for 17th-most in NFL history—and he has the fifth-most playoff sacks of all time with 11.0. Freeney's resume also includes seven Pro Bowls and three First-Team All-Pro selections. He racked up all those accolades by using a signature spin move that consistently made NFL offensive linemen look like they had never played football before, and he continued to utilize the move effectively into his twilight years.
Freeney's case for the Hall of Fame is fairly strong. Anyone who watched NFL football in the 2000s remembers him as the guy you had to stop on the Colts defense, and despite game-planning for him all week, very few teams were able to stop him. He was a dominant force right from the start of his professional career, and his effectiveness lasted into his late 30s. He was a joy to watch and will be missed by NFL fans regardless of what team they root for, but thanks to the internet, we can still enjoy watching the legendary pass-rusher whenever we want.