RENTON Three weeks ago Dwight Freeney was like many of us are on weekends.
He was on his couch, watching games on television.
The 37-year old with a Super Bowl ring, 15 years of NFL stardom and $97 million in career earnings was in Newport Beach, California, and Indianapolis golfing--a lot--and waiting for the call and opportunity he wanted that would get him to play football again.
Three sacks in two Seahawks games later, the three-time All-Pro defensive end and likely future Hall of Famer is having a blast.
“That’s why I keep hanging on. I’m having so much fun,” Freeney said before one of the least-fun weeks a 16-year veteran can have: just four days between his sack last weekend in the loss to Washington and a Thursday night showcase game at Arizona.
“It’s something that you can’t replace that feeling, really, and that emotion, and those moments where you are done, you are tied. I’ve talked to a lot of guys who are retired, and they’ve said, ‘Man, if you can keep playing, keep playing, as long as your body allows you.’ So that’s what it is, man. My body is feeling pretty good. So if I can help another team out and have fun in the process, why not?”
Oh, Freeney is helping the Seahawks already, all right. He’s stepped into a big void left by Pro Bowl end Cliff Avril’s neck injury on Oct. 1 that has him on injured reserve and his career in doubt.
Sunday’s was his first multiple-sack game since December of 2015 when he sacked Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers three times while playing for the Cardinals.
After two games Freeney is already third on the team in sacks. Only Pro Bowl end Michael Bennett with 6 1/2 and other end Frank Clark, now the starter with Avril out, with 4 1/2 have more than Freeney does.
He now has 125 1/2 sacks in his career that began in 2002 with Indianapolis, and has gone on to San Diego (2013-14), Arizona (’15), Atlanta (’16) and Seattle. Freeney is second to Julius Peppers’ 151 sacks among active players.
He is 17th in sacks in league history. He’s 1½ behind Derrick Thomas for 16th. He’s 7½ sacks behind Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal for 13th.
“I sit there and look and I go, ‘I’ve got... Derrick Thomas is next?’ Those are all people I’ve watched over my lifetime and my career, that I’ve always wanted to be like and play like,” Freeney said. “Lawrence Taylor, 132. He was my idol.
“If I could ever get to him, that’d be great. But who knows? Who cares? Sacks, they come and go. It doesn’t matter how many sacks you got as long as you had fun and played your heart out.”
He had fun playing 18 snaps in his debut two weeks ago against Houston, in his first game since February’s Super Bowl for Atlanta. Then he played 25 against Washington in his second Seahawks’ game last week.
How did 25 plays feel?
“I felt good,” he said. “I felt real good, actually.”
Could he play more? Should he?
He averaged 28 plays per game last year for Atlanta. He already has as many sacks for Seattle in two games as he did for the Falcons in 15 last regular season. He said this is a different role than he’s used to, coming in for spot, situational roles pf perhaps one or two snaps in a series rather than more consistent blocks of time. He said because Washington had to pass at the end of last weekend’s game because it was trailing he got more sustained play and got into more of a rhythm.
Seahawks Pro Bowl end Michael Bennett played 92 percent of the defense’s snaps against Washington, as Avril remains out and Marcus Smith got a concussion during the game. Bennett was still pressuring Cousins throughout Sunday’s game--Seattle hit him 11 times and had a season-high six sacks. But he and the defensive front has been at their best in past seasons, including the Super Bowl-winning one of 2013, when he has played in the 60-percent range of snaps. And Bennett has often missed practices in recent game weeks to rest a plantar-fascia injury in his foot.
Above 90 percent for Bennett’s playing time is not sustainable into December and for where the Seahawks want to get in January. But so far, it’s been necessary. More time for Freeney to play with defensive end Frank Clark would lighten Bennett’s load.
On Tuesday, Freeney didn’t discourage the idea of more playing time.
“I’m going to leave it up to them. It’s at their discretion,” he said. “It’s their deal. And I’m here to help, however that is. If it less snaps, then, ‘Hey...’ If it’s more snaps, then great. It is up to them.”
Coach Pete Carroll hasn’t indicated whether Freeney’s snaps will increase.
Freeney said the 25 snaps he got last weekend is “about the amount I’m used to, now. But I could play more reps. But during the game I’m always going to be fine. It’s as you get older the recovery is never going to be the same.
“That becomes priority one, two and three now. When you were younger you just go out, run a lap, and go. It’s time for a practice? Five minutes of stretch and you’re good.
“Now? It takes me 45 minutes to do anything.”
“So I make sure I take all my time to stretch, stretch, stretch,” he said. “Knowing all the issues I’ve had in my career, injuries, you have to make marks on, ‘OK, it’s my shoulder. It’s my glute. My ham(string). My knee. My this, my that.’ So I’ve got to make sure I do this stretch, that stretch, that stretch. (Then) I look at the clock and it’s like, ‘All right, practice is in about five minutes, and I still have like 10 stretches I’ve got to do.’ So that’s kind of my life now.
“But it’s all good. They work with me.”
He also hangs out for an hour each day in the hyperbaric chamber he bought years ago--and swears by. He says that one hour in the pure-oxygen capsule (retail price: about $4,000 and up) has the recovery, healing and refreshing effects equivalent to eight hours of sleep. The chamber sets its air pressure at three times the everyday norm so the occupant’s lungs can collect more oxygen, more efficiently.
Hey, for the Seahawks and their pass rush that just got a season-high six sacks last weekend, whatever works. Whatever Freeney and his defense need to take the air out of Arizona Thursday night.
“Yeah, how about it?” Carroll said. “He has been involved in three sacks already, and he had two or three other rushes where he was as clean as you could get. If the ball didn’t come out right now, he would have had sacks then, too.
“He just continues to show why he is Dwight Freeney, and he has had all these numbers in the past.”