When Reggie Wayne caught that one-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left to stun the Texans in the home finale last season, many of us figured that was a poetic way for the legendary veteran to say goodbye to the Indianapolis fans.
He was, after all, 33 years old, heading into free agency and the team was obviously heading into a thorough housecleaning.
Which brings us to another legendary veteran, Dwight Freeney. Many of us figure Sunday’s game against the Texans will be his final home game. He is, after all, 32 years old and heading into free agency.
No housecleaning looms, at least not on anything close to the scale of last year, but the chances of Freeney returning seem very slim.
“You really don’t know. This could be it,” Freeney said. “We’ll see what happens for me and my career later. What they decide to do, the Colts, those are business decisions for both of us.
“I think the later in your career, the older you get, especially when your contract is what it is and you have to sit there and say, ‘Hey, this might be it, man.’ So take in as much as you can take in.”
Despite all the similarities in the scenarios with Wayne and Freeney, there are tangible differences.
Wayne was still a very productive player who managed 75 receptions for 960 yards on a team with nondescript quarterback play. With a star rookie quarterback on the way, the franchise needed a veteran leader within the passing game, so re-signing Wayne to a three-year, $17.5 million contract wasn’t much of a gamble.
He has demonstrated as much by producing his sixth Pro Bowl season, topping 100 receptions and 1,200 yards for the fourth time – all in the past six years.
Freeney, on the other hand, looks very much like a player in decline, a square peg in the new defensive scheme’s round hole.
In his first season as a “rush” linebacker in a hybrid 3-4 alignment rather than a defensive end in a traditional 4-3, Freeney has produced just 18 tackles – 18th on the team and seventh among linebackers – and four sacks.
Granted, he has been playing hurt most of the season since sustaining a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the season opener in Chicago, and coaches have consistently credited him for attracting the attention of multiple blockers, creating opportunities for teammates to make plays, but when a guy soaks up $14 million in salary, he is supposed to be the one making plays.
“All I can do is perform and play,” Freeney said. “I’ve been a guy who plays regardless. I think I was supposed to be out four weeks, I’m back in two. They say I’m supposed to be out six, I’m back in two. I just go out and do what I’m supposed to do and just give it my all.
“If management wants to recognize that and say, ‘We’re going to keep you around,’ that’s their decision. I’m sure they’ll do right by me, factor in everything and when it’s time to make a decision, they will.”
To be sure, he has been one of the league’s all-time great pass-rushers. With 106.5 sacks, he ranks first all-time among Colts, fifth among active NFL players and 22nd in league history. He has more sacks against the Texans (16.5) than any other franchise, so the possibility exists he could go out with a bang.
That would be a fitting farewell for a player destined for the Ring of Honor, if not the Hall of Fame.