ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Freeney will fly to Atlanta on Thursday to sign a one-year deal with the Falcons. The team later confirmed Freeney agreed to terms.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff recently said the seven-time Pro Bowler remained on the radar, although Freeney visited the Falcons on June 1 and didn't initially sign.
Can the 36-year-old Freeney, with 119.5 sacks over 14 seasons, really have a significant impact at this stage of his career? Well, the Falcons are willing to find out. They came out of the offseason still desperate for pass-rush help after using their big free-agent dollars to sign center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, then targeting strong safety Keanu Neal in the first round of the draft. The coaches raved about what newcomer Derrick Shelby could bring to the pass rush, but Shelby is not known for his edge-rush ability.
Of course, expectations are high for last year's first-round pick, Vic Beasley Jr., who is transitioning to strongside linebacker from defensive end. But Beasley found out last season that he couldn't do it alone; he found himself rushing without much help more often than not.
When folks talk about the Falcons' woes last season, much of the chatter has to do with their league-low 19 sacks, led by Beasley's four. In a league with high-powered offenses, no pressure up front spells doom, particularly on third down.
In comes Freeney, best known for his devastating spin move and ability to force fumbles. He has recorded 47 forced fumbles, which ranks third in NFL history, according to STATS LLC research. Last season, with the Arizona Cardinals, Freeney recorded three forced fumbles -- a team high.
The rumor in league circles was that Freeney was asking for too much money despite generating strong interest from the Falcons, Bengals and Redskins. According to ESPN's Ed Werder, Freeney will get $2 million up front in a one-year deal with the possibility of making another $2 million based on sacks. He had a prorated base of $970,000 while recording eight sacks in 11 games with the Cardinals last season. The Falcons entered Tuesday with just over $11 million in cap space, according to NFLPA records.
If Freeney records five to seven sacks, that would be a victory for the Falcons. They don't need him to play the run. They just need him to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback from the jump, starting with Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1.
But it's not just all about Freeney's contribution. Beasley, despite being asked to drop in coverage some, still needs to play to his strength as a pass-rusher and show the counter moves he worked on with defensive coordinator Richard Smith this offseason. Beasley previously expressed a desire to learn from Freeney, and now that can happen.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn has to be effective rushing off the right edge rather than on the interior. Shelby needs to provide a push up the middle, as does nose tackle Grady Jarrett. Brooks Reed has to back claims that he has improved. And linebackers such as rookies De'Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones and veteran Philip Wheeler have to be effective blitzers when called upon to do so.
It might be wise for the Falcons to rest Freeney as much as possible this offseason. What they really need him for is to help spin the outcome of games that matter.