The question about the acquisition of 37-year old Dwight Freeney isn’t what the Seahawks see in the 37-year old defensive end.
They see, as coach Pete Carroll put it Wednesday, “an extraordinarily savvy guy, so smart and well-schooled, with tremendous ability rushing the passer. He’s going to help guys just being around them.”
The question is why Freeney continues playing a game that has found guys 10 years younger than he pondering early retirement because they fear long-term brain damage.
Uh, Dwight? Aren’t you concerned about the quality of your life beyond football?
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“I think it’s a little too late now,” he said. “That ship has sailed.”
Freeney’s reply drew laughter in the interview room, but there was something pragmatic about his cavalier answer regarding a gravely serious issue. When he takes the field Sunday afternoon against Houston, it will mark Freeney’s 23rd season of organized football – the last 16 of which he’s spent in the NFL.
If he’s incurred brain damage playing a constant-collision position at a high level, well, to borrow from the title of a Cornelius Brothers song even older than Freeney: It’s too late to turn back now.
“Look, it’s a dangerous game. We all know that,” said Freeney, recalling that when he broke into the league with the 2002 Colts, a single trainer tended to knockouts.
If the victim awakened to see two people, he was taken to the bench. The moment he correctly identified one, he was back on the field.
“Now, it you see two, you better sit down,” said Freeney. “That, obviously, is taking steps in the right direction.”
Freeney is the latest example of the affinity Carroll and general manager John Schneider keep for former stars confronting career sunsets, such as running back Fred Jackson and return man Devin Hester.
“We’ve had a lot of guys at the tail ends of their careers but are still great players,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “When you have special talents and special abilities like they do, you don’t need to give them huge roles.”
Although Freeney’s role doesn’t loom as huge, he knows how to place a hand on the ground and force the quarterback to hurry the throw. He was unemployed last week, sensing all his T’s were crossed as he tried to stay in shape at various fitness centers around Newport Beach, California.
Not the most physically imposing defensive lineman in the NFL – he’s 6-foot-1, 268 pounds – it’s possible Freeney wasn’t the most physically imposing person in the gym.
He was, presumably, the only person in the gym credited with 122.5 NFL sacks.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s, Freeney could have activated the clock on his wait for five-year Hall-of-Fame eligibility by retiring and devoting attention to another favorite sport, golf.
But he can’t give up football.
“For me, I’m just out here playing, loving the game,” he said. “I love what I do. You don’t have to pay me for Sunday, I’ll do that for free. Monday through Saturday, you’re gonna have to pay me just a little bit.”
The fact Sunday remains the only really dangerous day of the week for an NFL player does not faze Freeney.
Danger on Sunday?
That ship has sailed.