NFL Rumors: FA Dwight Freeney Drawing Interest From Atlanta Falcons, Several Other Teams Are Potential Suitors

Veteran defensive end/ linebacker Dwight Freeney is still looking for an NFL home. And it may be awhile before he finds a home. Last year, Freeney was out of work until the Arizona Cardinals signed him last October.

Freeney, No. 4 on Pro Football Rumors‘ top remaining defensive free agents, visited with the Atlanta Falcons today according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

At this point of his career, Freeney is a part-time player but he still can get after quarterbacks. The 36-year-old registered eight sacks and forced three fumbles in 11 games for the Cards in 2015. He has 119.5 sacks for his career, which is the third most among all active players behind the Green Bay Packers’ Julius Peppers (136) and the Denver Broncos’ DeMarcus Ware (134.5).

The reason that Freeney is still valuable at this stage of his career is because he can do other things than just putting his hand on the ground and rushing the passer. Freeney also has the ability to play outside linebacker. While he still has good instincts, Freeney is not strong against the run and hasn’t been that involved in pass coverage in recent years.

“Dwight Freeney is a one-dimensional guy; does not play the run — ever — and only pass-rushes,” former NFL head coach and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said in an ESPN interview. “His only move is his spin move, and it works. If he gets a young guy on him, he’s going to have two sacks in a game. He’s worth having. The thing is, if he’s their only pass-rusher, he’s just going to be so-so.”

Pro Football Focus rated Freeney as the 51st best edge rusher in the league last year. In total, Freeney saw 276 pass snaps and just 41 run snaps last year.

Vaughn McClure of ESPN is reporting that the Falcons, who have $5 million of cap space and two open rosters available, won’t be signing Freeney at this point but may consider signing him at a later date.

Atlanta went 8-8 last year and missed the playoffs by two games. The Falcons finished dead last in sacks last-year with 19 and hasn’t really addressed the issue this offseason.

Atlanta did sign veteran defensive end Derrick Shelby, who is expected to start opposite of second-year pro Vic Beasley, Jr. Shelby comes to the Falcons from Miami where he recorded 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks. The 27-year old also forced two fumbles and had one interception.

Beasley had an up and down rookie season finishing with 26.0 tackles and two forced fumbles, though he set a franchise-rookie record with 4.0 sacks. He is reportedly trying to improve his pass-rush technique by studying Denver Bronco Von Miller.

Adrian Clayborn, Grady Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman, Tyson Jackson, and Brooks Reed could also be part of the Falcons’ defensive line rotation. Clayborn, 27, appeared in all 16 games last season and recorded 16 tackles and three sacks. Jarrett had one sack and 24 sacks in 15 games during his rookie campaign last year. Reed, in his season with the Falcons after spending the previous four years in Houston, had 17 tackles in 13 games last season. Hageman has spent most of his time at defensive tackle the last two years, though he is expected to see more time at defensive end this season.

Veteran Jonathan Babineaux and undrafted rookie Ivan McLennan are other pass-rushing options. Babineaux, 34, has spent his entire career with the Falcons. He recorded 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 16 games last year – Babineaux has 27 sacks for his career.

Freeney is reportedly still in play for the Cincinnati Bengals despite not receiving an offer after meeting with the team last week. The Bengals were second in the NFL in scoring defense (17.4) and 10th in sacks with 42 last year. Cincinnati ultimately decided to sign fourth round draft pick Andrew Billings and undrafted rookie free agent FB Andrew Bonnet instead of Freeney.

However, the Bengals don’t have a reliable replacement for defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who signed with the Detroit Lions this offseason, which is why Freeney may be brought back at a later date. Gilberry backed up starters Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson last year.

Freeney does not have any other visits currently planned. But he is not out of options as it is still possible that he returns to Arizona, and the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, and the Kansas City Chiefs could use an edge pass rusher like Freeney.

According to Arizona Central, the Cardinals still are interested in Freeney but they traded for linebacker Chandler Jones earlier this offseason making him expendable. James Kratch of New Jersey Online believes the New York Giants should also take a look at Freeney since they don’t have any established pass-rusher behind Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants are reportedly high on second-year pro Owa Odighizuwa, however. Fansided believes Freeney would be a good fit in New England while SBNation does not think that there is a good reason for the Indianapolis Colts not to sign him.

[Photo by Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press]