Dwight Freeney’s arrival isn’t a miracle potion for the Atlanta Falcons pass rush, but will be an important part of the cure.
Before Freeney etches his name in Canton, his career takes potentially its final stop in Atlanta. The Falcons were right to sign the 36-year-old, but not solely for his sacks.
At this stage of his career expectations need to be held in check, despite being just one season removed from a Cardinals-high eight sacks, twice that of Falcons leader Vic Beasley.
Priority number one is to hit the quarterback, but the secondary effects of his arrival could have a more far-reaching impact.
Freeney is a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time first-team All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion. He knows what it takes to sustain a long, successful career in the National Football League, and this is evident every time he hits the practice field.
Freeney will undoubtedly be in the ear of second-year Beasley, Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby—who together form the nucleus of the pass rush—but the young trio may benefit most by simply watching.
Success on the field every Sunday is a result of the foundations set during the week. Players who perform at the highest level have mastered the art of preparation, from the film room to the practice field. Freeney’s presence in the locker room will give the young Falcons a role model to follow.
On the field, the Falcons acquire a savvy veteran who has seen and done it all. Freeney is a crunch-time king, and it’s in this role we will see him most. Less is more at this point of his career, likely limiting him exclusively to third-down work in obvious passing situations. Freeney’s job is to tee off on the passer, and head coach Dan Quinn won’t want him caught up in the relentless grind of defending the run.
Freeney’s time in Atlanta might be short and sweet, but his impact can last significantly longer. Beasley holds the keys to the long-term success of the pass rush, and he now has a leader to aspire to follow.
The signing of Freeney places a bow on a solid offseason of work for Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Their newest toy offers all-important depth to the pass rush rotation, and he’ll be a key piece in lifting the sack total from the foot of the league.
Sacks will define the success of Freeney’s stay in Atlanta, but his effect on the locker room can run much deeper.