Dwight Freeney

2024 Hall Of Fame Class Unveiled

As part of tonight’s NFL Honors program, the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class has been revealed. It consists of modern-era standouts and two players chosen by the senior committee. Here is the full breakdown of this year’s honorees:

Dwight Freeney, defensive end (2002-17)

In his second year as a finalist, Freeney received enough support to be voted into the Hall. One of the quickest edge rushers in NFL history, Freeney will reach Canton with 125.5 career sacks. That total ranks 18th in NFL history. The Colts made Freeney their pass-rushing anchor during Peyton Manning‘s extended run as their franchise centerpiece. While the team eventually found a bookend in Robert Mathis, it chose Freeney 11th overall in the 2002 draft with a hope of building a pass defense around the Syracuse alum. Freeney delivered and will book a Hall of Fame nod on his second try.

Freeney finished second to fellow 2024 inductee Julius Peppers in 2002 Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, but the spin-move maven showed what was ahead by forcing nine forced fumbles as a rookie. The 11-year Colt earned four All-Pro honors, joining Mathis as one of the era’s defining pass-rushing duos. Freeney led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and helped the Colts vanquish their Patriots hurdle en route to a Super Bowl XLI win two years later. The Colts gave Freeney a six-year, $72MM extension in 2007.

The enduring sack artist managed to play five seasons following his Colts career, spending time with the Chargers, Falcons, Cardinals, Seahawks and Lions. Serving as a designated rusher near the end of his career, Freeney helped the Cardinals reach the 2015 NFC championship game, after an eight-sack season, and played in Super Bowl LI with the Falcons.

Randy Gradishar, linebacker (1974-83)**

Widely viewed as one of the best linebackers of his era and one of the game’s best tacklers of any period, Gradishar moves into the Hall via the senior committee route. Gradishar’s selection makes him the first member of the Broncos’ “Orange Crush” defense to be enshrined in Canton. That defensive nucleus powered Denver to its first playoff berth, a 1977 season that included postseason wins over 1970s superpowers Pittsburgh and Oakland en route to Super Bowl XII. The Broncos allowed just 10.6 points per game in 1977. Despite multiple rule changes designed to increase offensive productivity in 1978, the Broncos yielded just 12.4 points per contest that year.

A first-round pick out of Ohio State, Gradishar played his entire career in Denver and earned five All-Pro honors. The above-referenced 1978 season featured perhaps the best team in Steelers history, but Gradishar outflanked “Steel Curtain” cogs by being voted as Defensive Player of the Year after helping the 10-6 Broncos back to the playoffs. The off-ball linebacker added 20 interceptions and four defensive touchdowns in his career.

Devin Hester, return specialist (2006-16)

Almost definitely the greatest return man in NFL history, Hester becomes one of the few true specialists in the Hall of Fame. Dabbling at cornerback and wide receiver, Hester provided the Bears tremendous value as a return specialist. Elite in both the kick- and punt-return capacities, Hester set an NFL record with 20 return touchdowns. Famously adding a kick-return score in the playoffs — to begin Super Bowl XLI — Hester delivered one of the great rookie seasons in NFL history. The Bears second-round pick notched six return TDs in the regular season — one coming on a blocked field goal sprint against the Giants — and added No. 7 against the Colts in the Super Bowl.

Hester’s 2007 season dismissed any fluke notions; he posted six more return scores (four on punts) during his NFL sophomore slate. While producing 17 more TDs on offense over the course of his career, Hester never caught on as a pure wideout in Chicago. But he landed on two All-Decade teams for his return work. Eighteen of Hester’s 19 return TDs came in Chicago. Hester’s 14 punt-return TDs are four more than second place all time (Eric Metcalf); he broke the record for combined kick- and punt-return TDs in only his sixth season (2011).

The Falcons gave Hester a three-year, $9MM contract in 2014; he finished his career splitting time with the Ravens and Seahawks in 2016. Seattle signed Hester just before the 2016 playoffs, using him in both its postseason contests that year.

Andre Johnson, wide receiver (2003-16)

Not collecting a Super Bowl ring like the other two pure wide receiver finalists in this year’s class (Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne), Johnson became well known for putting up monster numbers despite not being gifted a top-tier quarterback. But Johnson operated as one of the most physically imposing receivers in NFL history. The ex-Miami Hurricanes star’s numbers, largely compiled with David Carr and Matt Schaub targeting him, reflect that. Of Johnson’s seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons, four included 1,400-plus. Only Jerry Rice (six) and Julio Jones (five) produced more such seasons. Johnson’s 14,185 career yards rank 11th all time.

The Texans chose Johnson third overall in 2003, the second draft in their history. The 229-pound pass catcher led the NFL in receptions twice and receiving yards in back-to-back years (2008, 2009). Neither of those seasons lifted the Texans to a playoff berth, but Johnson remained in place as the team’s No. 1 wideout when the team finally booked its first two postseason cameos in 2011 and 2012. Johnson amassed 201 yards in two playoff games in 2011, doing so despite Schaub’s injury leaving rookie T.J. Yates at the controls.

Johnson is the Texans’ first Hall of Famer. This is fitting, as he retired with the most games played in Texans history. The longtime WR1 spent 12 years with the team. Johnson signed two Houston extensions spanning at least seven years in length, earning more than $108MM throughout his NFL run. He finished a 14-year career with one season apiece in Indianapolis and Tennessee.

Steve McMichael, defensive tackle (1980-94)**

Part of the storied 1985 Bears’ defense, McMichael played 13 of his 15 NFL seasons in Chicago. A Patriots third-round draftee, McMichael found himself in the Windy City ahead of his second season. The Patriots waived the future D-line mainstay during the 1981 offseason. Teaming with fellow Hall of Famers Dan Hampton and Richard Dent (along with William “The Refrigerator” Perry) on Chicago’s D-line, McMichael earned four All-Pro honors while helping a Bears team — one that saw Jim McMahon injuries impede paths to Super Bowls — become a perennial contender.

The Bears did, of course, break through as champions in 1985. That 18-1 team is on a short list of those in the running for the best ever, allowing only 12.4 points per game and outscoring its playoff opposition 91-10. McMichael started 16 games for the ’85 team and suited up every week for an ’86 Bears defense that statistically outflanked its famed predecessor. Better known by some as part of WCW’s Four Horsemen faction during his wrestling career, “Mongo” finished his gridiron run with 95 sacks (three of them safeties). McMichael closed out his NFL stay with the Packers in 1994. His 92.5 sacks with the Bears are second in franchise history.

Julius Peppers, defensive end (2002-18)*

Five years after retiring, Peppers remains fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list (159.5). The former Panthers, Bears and Packers pass rusher finished a half-sack shy of Kevin Greene for third. While Greene needed to wait a bit before enshrinement, voters will send Peppers to Canton on his first try. The former North Carolina two-sport standout came into the league with high expectations, going off the 2002 draft board second overall. He justified those, remaining a productive pass rusher into his late 30s. No active sack artist is within 35 of Peppers’ career total. He is among the rare players to land on two All-Decade teams.

Peppers collected six All-Pro honors, three as a first-teamer, and did quite well on the contract front. Peppers’ rookie contract spanned seven years (and $46MM, before the 2011 CBA introduced the slot system), and the Panthers kept him off the market with a franchise tag ahead of Year 8. During the uncapped 2010, Peppers landed a then-record-setting DE pact from the Bears (six years, $84MM). He played four seasons on that deal, and after the Bears made the 6-foot-6 rusher a cap casualty in 2014, Peppers made an impact for three playoff-bound Packers teams in the mid-2010s.

While this can be considered a big night for the Bears — due to the enshrinements of three former players — Peppers played 10 years with the Panthers, returning home to close out his 17-season run. Fifteen years after he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in Charlotte, the North Carolina native re-signed with his hometown team. Peppers’ penultimate season brought a 10th double-digit sack showing; he totaled 11 at age 37 to help the Panthers to their most recent playoff berth.

Patrick Willis, linebacker (2007-14)

Willis did not overstay his welcome in the NFL, retiring after his age-29 season. The dominant inside linebacker did not lack for accolades in his eight-year career, racking up six All-Pro honors — including five first-team distinctions. The 49ers nabbed Willis in the 2007 first round and turned him loose. Although San Francisco did not form the Jim HarbaughVic Fangio pairing until Willis’ fifth season, he flashed frequently as a young player and was regarded by many as the NFL’s best off-ball linebacker for an extended period.

The Ole Miss alum picked up Defensive Rookie of the Year acclaim and became the rare player to win that award while earning first-team All-Pro honors. Willis tallied a career-high 174 tackles — including a staggering 136 solo — as a rookie to provide an indication of his capabilities. Willis remained in his prime when Harbaugh and Fangio arrived in 2011. While Harbaugh’s arrival elevated Alex Smith and then Colin Kaepernick, Willis’ presence represented a key part of a defense-geared 49ers blueprint that produced three straight NFC championship games and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII.

Willis teamed with NaVorro Bowman to form one of the great linebacking pairs in modern NFL history. Seeing each soar to the first-team All-Pro perch, the 49ers went second-second-third in scoring defense from 2011-13. After suffering a foot injury midway through the 2014 season, Willis opted to call it quits.

* = denotes first year of eligibility
** = denotes senior candidate

This Date In Transactions History: Dwight Freeney

The Colts formed a long-term pass-rushing partnership on this day 12 years ago, finalizing a landmark Dwight Freeney contract. After extending Robert Mathis in 2006, the Colts took care of their cornerstone defensive end the following summer.

On July 13, 2007, Indianapolis inked Freeney to a six-year, $72MM extension that, at the time, represented the biggest contract for a defender in NFL history. Freeney, then 27, received a $30MM signing bonus on a deal that was backloaded to soften the cap burdens in its first two seasons. Freeney’s $37MM-plus in three-year earnings usurped Richard Seymour‘s $28MM three-year figure, which had paced the defender market at the time.

The then-defending Super Bowl champion Colts, who had Mathis on a contract worth $30MM over five years, used their franchise tag on Freeney earlier that year. That tender in 2007 came in at $9.43MM. At this point, both Freeney and Mathis were locked up for the next four seasons together. While the latter ended up outlasting the former in Indianapolis, Freeney made a sizable impact over the course of his deal.

Although Freeney registered only 5.5 sacks during Indy’s Super Bowl title season, and just 3.5 in an injury-shortened ’07, the Syracuse alum rewarded the Colts in the late aughts and early 2010s. Freeney recorded 43.5 sacks from 2008-11, earning Pro Bowl recognition in each season. Equipped with some of the best speed (4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2002 Combine) of any pass rusher in NFL history, the former No. 11 overall pick ended his Colts career with a then-franchise-record 107.5 sacks while also forcing 43 fumbles. He played in 17 playoff games (including two Super Bowls) with the franchise, adding nine more sacks in the postseason.

Freeney, who finished his 11-year Colts career with three first-team All-Pro honors, played out the contract before signing with the Chargers in 2013. He ended up playing for the Bolts, Cardinals, Falcons, Lions and Seahawks over the next five seasons, before retiring at age 38. Freeney (125.5 sacks) and Mathis (123) ended their careers adjacent to one another on the all-time sack list, in the Nos. 18 and 19 positions.

Dwight Freeney Retires From NFL

Dwight Freeney is calling it a career. After 16 seasons in the NFL, Freeney will sign a one-day contract with Indianapolis to retire as a member of the Colts. 

Freeney entered the league as the No. 11 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Since then, he has racked up seven Pro Bowl nods, three first-team All-Pro selections, and a Super Bowl ring.

Freeney, 38, will be best remembered for his time in blue and white, where he amassed 107. 5 sacks across eleven seasons. All in all, he has 125.5 career sacks to his credit, tying him for 17th all-time in NFL history.

The Colts averaged 11 wins per year during Freeney’s run with the Colts and had 11 sacks in his 22 playoff games with the team. Many thought the Colts were reaching when they selected Freeney in ’02, but he turned out to be the perfect fit for first-year head coach Tony Dungy.

Bill [Polian] had seen Dwight and thought he was exactly the guy I had been talking about,” Dungy said of Freeney. “We’re sitting at No. 11 in the first round and people looked at his size and thought it was too high to draft him. Bill, to his credit, said, ‘If this is going to be the big piece of the puzzle, let’s not worry about where we take Dwight and what other people think. Let’s get the guy who is going to be the perfect piece.’ Dwight was the straw that stirred the drink.”

The Syracuse product played in three Super Bowls — two with the Colts, one with the Falcons — and started in 19 postseason games. All seven of Freeney’s double-digit sack seasons came with the Colts.

Following his Colts run, which ran through the 2012 season, Freeney played with five more teams. His most notable post-Indianapolis season came with the 2015 Cardinals, for whom he registered eight sacks and helped to the NFC title game despite being an off-the-bench edge rusher. He recorded three sacks in each of the past two seasons, playing in Atlanta, Seattle and Detroit. Prior to Arizona, Freeney spent two seasons in San Diego.

Extra Points: Hawks, Lions, Texans, Giants

The Seahawks had hoped to re-sign Dwight Freeney after cutting him last week, but the Lions claimed him off waivers before they could so, as Freeney explained to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). Seattle needed to reinforce its depth at linebacker, and waiving Freeney was simply the easiest move the club could make. That’s not to say there wasn’t a financial component to the Freeney’s release, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times noted last week. Nevertheless, Freeney now heads to Detroit, a team that had interest in signing him at several points earlier in the season, tweets Birkett.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Linebacker Brian Cushing is now eligible to return to the Texans after serving a 10-game PED suspension, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. Houston has a one-week roster exemption for Cushing, whom Wilson reports is still in excellent shape. That exemption expires next Monday, and head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t commit to placing Cushing on the Texans’ active roster before the club’s Week 13 contest against the Titans. Cushing did not appeal his most recent PED ban, the second of his NFL career.
  • Giants running back Orleans Darkwa earned a $150K bonus by surpassing 500 yards rushing for the season on Sunday, tweets Field Yates of ESPN.com. While New York’s offense has been extremely poor as a unit, Darkwa has been surprisingly effective. In 10 games (seven starts), the 25-year-old Darkwa has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and ranks as a top-15 back in DVOA, DYAR, and success rate, all of which are Football Outsiders metrics. Darkwa is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the spring after earning $1.1MM in base salary this year.
  • The Dolphins have designated offensive lineman Eric Smith to return from injured reserve, reports Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald (Twitter link). Smith, a rookie undrafted free agent out of Virginia, earned a spot on Miami’s 53-man roster before going down in October. If activated, he’ll earn something of a multi-game tryout over the rest of the regular season. The Dolphins have already placed three other offensive lineman on IR this year, so Smith could see playing time down the stretch.
  • The NFL has agreed in principle to a deal that would donate nearly $100MM to social causes put forth by the league’s players, according to Jim Trotter and Jason Reid of ESPN.com. However, several members of the Players Coalition — a group led by Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins that negotiates with owners — have since departed, citing a lack of communication on the unit’s proceedings. The agreement does not tackle the league’s ongoing debate regarding national anthem protests, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post.

Lions Claim Dwight Freeney

The Lions have claimed Dwight Freeney off waivers, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Freeney was released by the Seahawks on Tuesday. Dwight Freeney (vertical)

Once among the league’s most dominant edge rushers, the 37-year-old isn’t quite the world-beater that he used to be. Still, Freeney could be a useful situational player, as evidenced by the three sacks he compiled in four games with Seattle. He was also effective in small doses for the Falcons in 2016. Freeney scored three sacks and 26.5 pressures for the Falcons last year while playing roughly a third of Atlanta’s defensive snaps.

In Detroit, Freeney will help to serve as depth behind starters Anthony Zettel and Ezekiel Ansah. If Ansah’s knee keeps him from the field on Thanksgiving, Cornelius Washington will draw the start at right defensive end, potentially putting Freeney in line for significant playing time. Jeremiah Valoaga and the newly-promoted Christian Ringo will also be in the same boat.

Freeney has a chance to reach the postseason with the Lions, who are 6-4. He also has a chance to move up the all-time sack chart. Currently, he sits 17th with 125.5 career sacks, putting him within range of Derrick Thomas (126.5) and Rickey Jackson (128). If he plays in 2018, he might have a chance at leapfrogging Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal (132.5).

Seahawks Waive Dwight Freeney

Dwight Freeney‘s time is over in Seattle. The Seahawks announced that they have waived the veteran. "<strong

Freeney joined the Seahawks in October and recorded three sacks in four games. Although he was effective as a pass rusher in limited downs, the Seahawks appear to be looking for some more well-rounded defensive line depth.

Because the trade deadline has come and gone, Freeney will be subject to waivers. He could draw interest from some contending clubs looking to improve their QB pressure. By the same token, it wouldn’t be surprising to see clubs pass on the 37-year-old. After all, he was without a team until midway through the season.

If this is indeed the end of Freeney’s career, he will leave the sport with an impressive list of accomplishments. In 16 NFL seasons, Freeney earned seven Pro Bowl nods and was First-Team All Pro on three separate occasions. He’s also 17th on the NFL’s all-time career sack list with 125.5 and is second only to Julius Peppers among active players.

NFC West Notes: 49ers, Staley, Seahawks

There’s trade talk surrounding Joe Staley as the deadline approaches, but the left tackle says that he wants to stay put with the 49ers.

I’ve always wanted to play for the Niners, and the facts don’t change now,” Staley said (via Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group). “I’m just here to be better at my job. That’s where my focus is.”

The Eagles became a speculative suitor for Staley after after Jason Peters suffered a season-ending knee injury, particularly since Staley carries a reasonable salary all the way through 2019. The Niners say it would “take a whole lot” to part ways with him, but that just might happen with so many teams looking to strengthen the offensive line.

Staley, meanwhile, says he hasn’t gone to general manager John Lynch or coach Kyle Shanahan for clarification on his status.

They know I want to be here,” Staley said. “What I’m concerned with is coming off a game where we didn’t do a good job in pass protection. We’ve got a hell of a challenge this week against the Eagles.”

Here’s more from the NFC West:

  • We have details on Dwight Freeney‘s deal with the Seahawks, courtesy of ESPN.com’s Field Yates (on Twitter). The veteran will earn $1MM in base salary, plus $8K for each game he is on the 53-man roster. All in all, the deal carries a maximum value of $1.08MM. Freeney, 37, is expected to suit up on Sunday when the Seahawks host Houston.
  • Don’t expect Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett to play as long as Freeney. When asked if he sees himself on the field at the age of 37, Bennett replied, “Hell no,” (Twitter link via Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times). Bennett turns 32 in November, so that doesn’t mean retirement is necessarily coming anytime soon. The defensive end is under contract through the 2020 season, his age-35 campaign, so that could be the cutoff he has in mind.
  • The Cardinals formally placed Carson Palmer on IR, ruling him out for the next two months.
  • The 49ers are changing Eric Reid‘s position in the midst of his contract year.

NFC West Notes: Cards, 49ers, Hawks, Rams

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has not made any decision regarding whether his career will continue past the 2017 season, sources tell Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com. Arizona will now be without quarterback Carson Palmer for several weeks (if not the rest of the year), and given that the Cardinals appear set to miss the postseason for the second consecutive season, there was some thought that Arians could hang it up after the current campaign concludes. But Arians himself tweeted that any such rumors were “news” to him, although Weinfuss added that how Arizona finishes the season could factor into Arians’ decision on 2018.

Here’s more from the NFC West:

  • Offensive tackle Joe Staley‘s name is often tossed out near the NFL’s trade deadline, but 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan says it would “take a whole lot” for the club to move the veteran lineman, per Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group (Twitter link). As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee writes, the Niners have surely discussed trading Staley, especially now that a contending club such as the Eagles is down a left tackle in Jason Peters. Staley, 33, is still playing well — No. 19 offensive tackle in the league, per Pro Football Focus — and is signed through the 2019 season at extremely affordable rates.
  • Conversations between the Seahawks and edge defender Dwight Freeney were initiated after fellow defensive lineman Cliff Avril suffered an injury, head coach Pete Carroll told reporters, including Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times (Twitter links). Avril is done for the season as he deals with a neck issue, and could possibly contemplate retirement. Freeney, who says he turned down other offers, will likely serve in a rotational capacity, and is expected to be active when Seattle faces Houston on Monday night. Even after adding Freeney, the Seahawks are still looking for more pass rushers.
  • The Rams picked up $2.5MM in 2017 cap space as a result of extending linebacker Alec Ogletree, according to Joel Corry of CBSSports.com (Twitter link). That indicates that Los Angeles reduced Ogletree’s $8.369MM base salary, because his prorated $8MM signing bonus should account for $1.25MM on the Rams’ 2017 books. All told, Ogletree’s four-year extension is worth $42MM and contains $18MM in full guarantees. His $10.5MM average annual value places him behind only Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner among inside ‘backers.

Seahawks To Sign DE Dwight Freeney

The Seahawks have signed veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, as Freeney himself first indicated on his own Twitter account. Unsurprisingly, it’s a one-year deal for Freeney, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

Freeney, now 37 years old, spent the 2015 campaign in Arizona and managed eight sacks down the stretch after signing with the club midseason. Last year, Freeney didn’t have to wait quite as long to land a contract, and put up three sacks and 26.5 pressures for the Falcons while playing roughly a third of Atlanta’s defensive snaps.

Despite that performance, Freeney had yet to draw any interest on the free agent market until meeting with the Seahawks earlier today. He’d always planned to continue his career, however, and there’s an argument to be made that waiting until midseason to sign a deal could actually help a pass rusher of Freeney’s age by limiting his overall usage.

Freeney won’t be asked to play a starter’s complement of snaps in Seattle, as the club already boasts two excellent edge defenders in Michael Bennett and Frank Clark. Bennett, though, is dealing with plantar fasciitis, while fellow defensive end Cliff Avril is out for the rest of the season (and could be contemplating retirement). Given the Seahawks’ depth up front, Freeney will serve as a rotational option alongside other reserves such as Marcus Smith and Branden Jackson.

While there’s no word on the financials in Freeney’s contract, it’s possible (and even likely, based on past precedent) that his deal with Seattle will include some type of performance-based pay. Last season, Freeney inked a one-year, $1MM pact with Atlanta that contained up to $2MM in sack incentives.

Seahawks To Host DE Dwight Freeney

Hours after it was reported that the Seahawks may have interest in veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, the team will now bring in the former All-pro for a team visit tomorrow, tweets Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.

Dwight Freeney

While the Seahawks already have a talented defensive line made up of Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark, the team’s interest in the 37 year-old probably stems from the injury that talented pass rusher Cliff Avril suffered at the beginning of the month. It’s highly unlikely that Freeney would play the majority of the snaps if he were signed, but he would provide another option to get after the quarterback on passing downs.

The defensive lineman is nowhere near the player he once was, although the veteran did post a combined 11 sacks in his previous two seasons as a member of the Cardinals and Falcons.