INDIANAPOLIS — Dwight Freeney and Austin Collie were not expected to be back with the Indianapolis Colts next season.
On Friday, the team made it official by issuing a statement saying it would not re-sign Freeney, the Colts’ career sacks leader, or Collie, a key player in their second Super Bowl run since moving to Indy. Both will now become unrestricted free agents.
“Sadly, Dwight and Horseshoe parting ways,” team owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter after the team confirmed the moves.
It’s the second straight year Indy’s offseason has started with the departure of some familiar faces and fan favorites.
Last year, the Colts released four-time MVP Peyton Manning in early March. A few days later, they cut running back Joseph Addai, linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt and tight end Dallas Clark. Right tackle Ryan Diem retired and a handful of players including receiver Pierre Garcon and center Jeff Saturday left in free agency. It looked like the Colts might also lose Pro Bowlers Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, too, but Indy re-signed both players and both again made the Pro Bowl team in 2012.
Indy then drafted Andrew Luck and two tight ends and a receiver in the first three rounds, signed free agents Donnie Avery, Winston Justice and Samson Satele and found enough replacements to post an 11-5 mark and return to the playoffs.
The moves left the Colts with little salary cap room last season. With the Colts projected to have more than $40 million available under the cap when free agency opens in a couple of weeks, the decisions this time had nothing to do with money.
Freeney turns 33 next week, has seen his sacks totals decline each of the past three years, counted more than $17 million against the cap last season and never seemed comfortable after moving from a 4-3 defensive end, where he spent his first 10 NFL seasons, to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
He was the 11th overall selection in the 2002 draft, the first with former coach Tony Dungy on board, and some critics considered the selection a reach. All Freeney did, though, was make 378 tackles, set Indy’s career record with 107 sacks, forced 44 fumbles and combined with Mathis to form one of the most fearsome pass-rush tandems in the league. The forced fumbles were the most by any NFL player since 2002 and he’s one of 13 players in Colts’ history to participate in more than 100 wins.
“Few people have meant as much to the success of the Indianapolis Colts as Dwight Freeney,” Irsay said in a statement. “He has been a dominant player, which is all the more impressive considering his size for his position, and he has won a lot of games for this franchise. Dwight was an artist, a joy to watch, and the dedication he put toward his craft was a rare quality. We will miss him, but look forward to his future induction into the Hall of Fame and Colts Ring of Honor.”
Collie’s problem was injuries.
Despite being a reliable slot receiver during his first two seasons, he wound up on season-ending injured reserve in September with a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. And there was even more concern over a series of concussions that ended his 2011 season and plagued the early part of the 2012 season, too. Some even debated whether the Colts should cut Collie to keep him safe.
He thanked the fans on his Twitter page.
“Sad day for me and my fam. It was a g8 4 yrs,” Collie wrote. “Can’t thnk u all enough 4 ur hospitality and support. Blessed to have been a part of this org.”