Reports of big names linking a player to a particular team is all it takes to set a fanbase ablaze. The latest example comes with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reporting that free agent defensive end Dwight Freeney, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, has targeted the Lions as one of his three preferred landing spots.
I’ll admit to being initially intrigued. After all, the Lions have a need at defensive end and Freeney’s resume speaks for itself. He had a down year in 2012 but that is easily explained away by his shift to outside linebacker as the Colts made the move to a 3-4 defense. The hang up is in the expectation that Freeney makes the move back to a 4-3 defensive end and suddenly becomes the player he was in 2011 despite now being 33-years old. This on top of the fact that human nature is not to remember the 2011 Freeney, but the Freeney that put up double-digit sack totals in seven of nine seasons from 2002-2010.
Considering where the Lions are now and where Freeney is at this point in his career, I’m not so sure a union makes much sense.
Let’s be honest about what Dwight Freeney has been over the course of his career: an amazing pass rusher that is terrible against the run. Consider Freeney’s ratings from Pro Football Focus for run defense over the last four years in which he was a 4-3 defensive end:
Throughout his career, Freeney’s pass rush grades have more than made up for his deficiencies against the run. However, going back to 2011, that wasn’t the case as he finished with an overall PFF rating of a basically neutral -0.3. This makes Freeney look a lot more like Cliff Avril, who the Lions showed little to no interest in retaining.
In swapping out Cliff Avril for Jason Jones, the Lions have shown a clear preference for more balanced defensive ends. One quote from Jim Schwartz suggests the defense was pidgeon-holed by Avril’s presence:
We put Cliff in what we thought was the best position for him to be effective and for him to help us. It didn’t necessarily put Nick Fairley or Ndamukong Suh in the best position. But that’s coaching. You just try to put guys in the best position that they can do.
With Avril, you get the possibility of progression, or at least relative surety that what he is is what he will be for the next couple of years. At 33, the same can’t be said for Freeney. If the Lions didn’t have interest in Avril, why would they have interest in Freeney?
Obviously there is a financial aspect to consider as well and it is important to note that so far the interest has been from Freeney’s side, not the Lions’. Freeney’s asking price is currently in the $6 million range which is sure to keep the Lions from being iterested. Is cutting that in half enough to draw interest from the Lions? I’m not certain that it should. Maybe if the Lions were just a situational pass rusher away from being Super Bowl contenders. Unfortunately, they are not.