Dwight Freeney tells Dan Quinn he's ready for comeback; Falcons won't commit just yet

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he recently spoke with Dwight Freeney, and this time, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end made it clear he is ready for a comeback.

"He wants to play," Quinn said on Wednesday of the 37-year-old. "I’d say he’s further along in the decision than he was last year."

Quinn, who'd previously spoken to Freeney solely about his golf game, stopped well short of saying the Falcons intend to re-sign Freeney at this time. Quinn relayed the same message to Freeney that he echoed through the media after Freeney went on SiriusXM NFL radio and said he was in discussions with the Falcons about a return.

"He knows I’m going down the line of looking at our team here," Quinn reiterated Wednesday.

Quinn wants to develop his current group of pass-rushers, led by reigning NFL sack champion Vic Beasley Jr., who accumulated 15.5 sacks last season. The Falcons drafted defensive end Takkarist McKinley out of UCLA in the first round to rush off the edge opposite of Beasley. But there is always a chance McKinley, who underwent significant surgery on his right shoulder in March, might not be ready despite optimism about his status.

Quinn was asked if he had a feel for McKinley’s availability for training camp. McKinley currently is in California rehabbing because NFL rules regarding final exams at UCLA prohibit him from being with the team right now.

"I don’t, until [he] gets here and gets going," Quinn said. "I know he’s been working really hard with the therapist back in L.A. But until we know, we’ll get a better update for you as it gets closer to camp."

Freeney is a good insurance policy to have in case McKinley isn’t ready to start the season, if veteran Adrian Clayborn suffers any setbacks in his recovery from a biceps tear or if any other unforeseen injuries occur. However, Quinn made clear Freeney is someone he would consider "no matter what" as he evaluates the progress of the line.

The Falcons are more stacked along the defensive line than they’ve been in recent seasons, with Beasley, Clayborn, newcomer and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe, Super Bowl standout Grady Jarrett, newcomer Jack Crawford, versatile Courtney Upshaw, a now-healthy Derrick Shelby (Achilles) and powerful Ra'Shede Hageman. Quinn also recently singled out the play of undrafted rookie pass-rusher J'terius Jones.

Freeney, who had three sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 399 defensive snaps primarily as a designated pass-rusher in 2016, didn’t sign with the Falcons until last Aug. 4. It was a one-year deal worth $2 million. He missed one game after playing through a quadriceps tear.

Freeney’s value extends beyond statistics. He spoke with McKinley following the draft about his transition to the NFL, and was instrumental in tutoring young talents such as Beasley and Jarrett last season.

"I learned that success doesn’t just come overnight," Jarrett said of absorbing Freeney’s knowledge. "The way that he went about his business day in and day out, the way he took care of what he put in his body ... he had the success that he did for a reason. Just the way he approached the game and how serious he took the game; if you want to be great like him -- a legend -- you’ve got to do that."

Should the Falcons indeed consider re-signing Freeney, they currently have just over $6 million in available salary-cap space, according to the latest NFLPA figures.