After the 2012 season, when the Falcons believed they were close to a Super Bowl, they made the decision to bring in two veterans with strong resumes: running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Their hope: That it would push them over the top. The result: Not good. The season went sideways but that was more the residual of injuries and other personnel decisions than it was the two signings.
The Falcons made a similar move Tuesday. In need of improving the pass rush and a mentor for a number of young defensive players, particularly former No. 1 draft pick Vic Beasley, they signed linebacker Dwight Freeney.
This move has been long expected. I wrote last week that Freeney’s signing could happen soon but honestly I didn’t expect it until after at least the Falcons’ first preseason game next Thursday against Washington. Expect Freeney to be on the “old man schedule” of an NFL training camp. He’ll take a little while to get into playing shape and even then probably won’t see much preseason action — because, frankly, he doesn’t need to and it’s not worth the risk.
Freeney’s signing wouldn’t make sense for a lot of teams. But it makes sense for the Falcons, even at the age of 36.
He had eight sacks and three forced fumbles in only 11 games with Arizona last season. You won’t find a Falcons’ player who had that kind of production last season.
Freeney obviously isn’t the double-digit sack guy he was during his prime years in Indianapolis, when he was named first-team All Pro three times, played in seven Pro Bowls and registered more than 100 sacks. But he can still get to the quarterback while playing a limited number of snaps. He also can work with Beasley, who could use some knowledge to go with all of that athletic ability. Freeney still commands enough attention from opposing offenses when he’s on the field that it also could free up other Falcons’ defenders. One of the mistakes associated with the Umeniyiora signing was it came in the same offseason when the Falcons released sack-leader John Abraham, minimizing Umenyiora’s potential impact.
I believe the Falcons, with this move, the Alex Mack signing and the last two drafts, are moving in the right direction. If Matt Ryan and the offense can show improvement in year two in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, this is a potential playoff team, even with the difficult schedule. And that’s something that hasn’t happened since 2012, when the Falcons came to within a win of going to the Super Bowl.
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