Dwight Freeney was a week or so away from maybe not playing football this season before the Seahawks called. He officially joined the team on Wednesday.
As the days, weeks and months passed and hitting golf balls in the sun began to seem more enticing than hitting the weights in a gym, Dwight Freeney set something of a deadline.
“I was literally one week away,’’ Freeney said. “I was like ‘if I don’t get a call now, I can’t go into that same gym and work out doing the same workout again. So thank God these guys called and said they had interest. It kind of pushed me another week to workout and get going. I’m here now and I’m excited.”
That call to Freeney from the Seahawks came shortly after the team realized how serious the injury was to Cliff Avril, who was put on Injured Reserve last week as he continues to see specialists about the cause of stingers that resulted in numbness in his fingers and hands from an incident in a game Oct. 1 against the Colts.
With Avril out until at least mid-December the Seahawks are without their best pure pass rusher.
In Freeney they replaced him with one of the best pure pass rushers in NFL history — Freeney’s 122.5 sacks are the 18th most all-time.
The question will be how much Freeney can give the Seahawks now that he is 37 and playing his 15th season, the first 11 with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-12 for whom he also made seven Pro Bowls.
But after watching Freeney in a workout Tuesday the Seahawks decided to sign him, and Wednesday he took part in his first practice wearing his familiar No. 93, which Branden Jackson happily handed over (Jackson will now wear 67). Freeney expects to play on Sunday with coach Pete Carroll saying he should get some snaps at the right defensive end spot he has almost always played.
“He is ready to go,’’ Carroll said. “He wants to go. He has been working really hard and is in good shape. The workout showed that yesterday. He’s got to make it through the week and all that. We are expecting him to play, so you will see him some.’’
Carroll confirmed that the Seahawks’ interest in Freeney began after the injury to Avril, who was put on Injured Reserve on Saturday.
Freeney played in a largely complementary role with Atlanta last season, but helped the Falcons get to the Super Bowl, making three sacks during the regular season and then another in the epic loss to the Patriots.
“He was very active last year, made a lot of things happen,’’ Carroll said. “Film looked great and he’s been kind of sitting out and waiting for an opportunity. He was really anxious to get back to playing, so it was a chance and it worked out. We are thrilled to have him.”
Freeney had just a one-year contract with Atlanta and had hinted that had the Falcons won the Super Bowl he might have walked off into the sunset.
He said he kept in contact with the Falcons this off-season and through training camp and into the early weeks of the regular season, and for a while there was a thought he would go back there. Eventually, he said, the Falcons “decided to go in a different direction.’’
He spent much of the summer in Newport Beach, Calif., waiting to see if anyone else might be interested, then headed to Indianapolis.
Asked what he was doing he said “a lot of golf.’’ But he said he also worked out just enough to stay in shape should his phone ring.
He said a few offers did come his way “and I turned down some of those’’ waiting in part to see if the Falcons might call back.
He’d begun to be resigned to the idea that he might not play when the Seahawks called.
Taking a chance on Seattle, he said, was a no-brainer.
In fact, when he left the Colts in 2012 he said he gave thought then to someday playing for Seattle (that was the year the Seahawks signed Avril and Michael Bennett).
“Once I left Indianapolis, I was like ‘Man, it would be special to play in Seattle,’’’ said Freeney, who in 2002 was the 11th overall pick in the draft out of Syracuse. “And one of the reasons being is because of the mentality on defense. It kind of gets lost sometimes in the league now these days of high-powered offense, and I’m not saying by any means that our offense isn’t good, but I think it’s just a little something different on defense in this city and how the 12th man really rises up and gets behind their defense. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
As were many of his new teammates happy to have him become a part of it.
Frank Clark, who was 9 when Freeney entered the NFL, now is likely to often team with Freeney in the team’s nickel packages.
He called Freeney “a legend’’ and said “having a guy here who can teach us a thing or two new…. I know Mike B. (Michael Bennett) appreciate him. And that says a lot. If Mike B. appreciate a guy, and Mike B. can vouch for a guy and say I want him here, that says a lot. Mike B. wants him here and really wants him here.’’
Clark said he plans to pick Freeney’s brain as much as he can, recalling watching highlights of Freeney as a kid.
“I remember watching them break down his spin move, and I was just so excited,’’ Clark said. “I was like ‘man if I can learn that spin move one day, maybe I can be like him. Maybe I can be great.’ Ever since that day I’ve been trying to do a spin move and I still haven’t gotten it like him.
“I’m gonna make him teach me now. He ain’t got no choice. He on my team. I let him have the right side too, outta respect. I told him go ahead and rush on the right. He told me he had a million snaps on the right side and probably 10 on the left. I was like ‘aw man.’ Trying to have fun out there that’s all. Looking forward to it.’’