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February 16, 2013

Former Pro Bowl selection Freeney won't return to Colts

TERRE HAUTE — The news coming out of the Indianapolis Colts headquarters Friday afternoon was not totally unexpected.

Team officials have confirmed that two veteran players – former Pro Bowl defensive end/outside linebacker Dwight Freeney and wide receiver Austin Collie — will not be returning for the 2013 season. Both Freeney and Collie were at the end of their current contracts and will not be re-signed.

A drop in production over the last several seasons, along with a series of minor injuries and a position change necessitated by a new defensive scheme, played a large part to the decision to part ways with Freeney.

Collie, meanwhile, has battled concussion and knee issues for the last several seasons. He sustained three concussions in two years and missed last season with a knee injury. A fourth-round draft pick in 2009 out of Brigham Young, Collie ends his Colts career with 173 receptions for 1,845 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft, Freeney ends his time in Indianapolis as the franchise's all-time sack leader (107.5).  Along with Collie, he will now be able to sign with another NFL team when the free agency period opens on March 12.

“Few people have meant as much to the success of the Indianapolis Colts as Dwight Freeney,” Colts owner  Jim Irsay said in a prepared 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.”

A seven-time Pro Bowl selection. Freeney recorded seven of the 17 double-digit sack seasons in franchise history. He had 13 sacks as a rookie along with 11 in 2003, 16 in 2004, 11 in 2005, 10.5 in 2008, 13.5 in 2009 and 10 in 2010. The former Syracuse standout became the first Colts player to top the NFL in sacks with his total in 2004.

Freeney had 25 career games with multiple sacks, including five three-plus sack games. He leveled 53 different opposing quarterbacks and had sacks against 27 of 31 teams. His statistics slipped the last two seasons with 13 tackles (8.5 sacks) in 2011 and 10 tackles (five sacks) last year.

In a text to ESPN reporter Ed Werder, the 11-year NFL veteran said that he was surprised by the team’s decision.

“I was very surprised to hear [the Colts] wanted to go in a different direction. Would have been nice to retire a Colt,” he wrote.

Freeney started 143-of-163 career games in Indianapolis. He totaled 378 tackles (313 solo), 107.5 sacks, 44 forced fumbles, 14 passes broken up and three fumble recoveries. He started 17 games in the postseason, recording 37 tackles (31 solo), nine sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one pass broken up.

Both players are expected to land with new teams. Collie could end up in Denver, where he would be reunited with former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. San Francisco is another possibility, where his father played in the mid-1980s.

“Sad day for me and my fam[ily]. It was a g8 4 yrs. Can't thank u all enough 4 ur hospitality and support. Blessed to have been part of this organization,” Collie tweeted Friday afternoon.

Freeney, meanwhile, is sure to attract a lot of interest from 4-3 defensive teams around the league. Arizona and Minnesota, both with strong former Colts connections, are possibilities.

Former Indianapolis offensive coordinator/interim coach Bruce Arians is now the Cardinals head coach. Leslie Frazier, a former defensive assistant in Indianapolis, is the Vikings coach. Former Colts secondary coach Alan Williams is Minnesota's defensive coordinator.

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