The Falcons’ 36-year-old defensive end will consider retiring this offseason, but no matter what happens this postseason, he might have enough personal motivation to keep playing and get a few more sacks
No matter what happens in the playoffs, Dwight Freeney might have all the motivation in the world to play next season. The 36-year-old defensive end has 122.5 career sacks, putting him at No. 18 in NFL history and a half-sack behind his former Colts teammate Robert Mathis, who recently announced his retirement. As the Falcons prepare for their divisional round game, The MMQB caught up with Freeney to talk about his longtime friend's decision, his own plans beyond this season, what it’s been like mentoring Vic Beasley, and why his spin move is still the best.
KAHLER: You’re 36 years old, a year older than Robert Mathis! Have you considered retirement at all?
FREENEY: Yeah, I mean, you kind of start thinking about that whenever a guy who came in after you is starting to retire and you’re still here. You get little hints, like maybe it is time for you to get out of here. But I don’t know, I’m still having a ball.
KAHLER: Did you and Mathis talk while he was making his decision?
FREENEY: We talked a little and he told me this is it for him. We have a real close relationship, so we reminisced about back in the day when we were on the same team and he was telling me that was going to be his last game coming up.
KAHLER: What’s your best Mathis story?
FREENEY: I don’t know if I have a go-to story. Robert is a man of few words. We joke about how if we ever put a mic on Robert during the game, you would hear nothing but static, just absolutely nothing. Total silence. He’s a good guy, we grinded together on the same field for years. I always knew I could count on him whenever something was going on with me, I could count on him to make the play.
KAHLER: When you left Indianapolis after the 2012 season, you and Mathis would text back and forth to egg each other on and push each other to play better. Are you going to miss that motivation and competitive fire?
FREENEY: I am going to miss it, yeah. We had a little funny thing going, his numbers are so close to my numbers. It was like two old guys in a race, which one is going to win the race type of thing. We had some pretty funny texts. I don’t know what is going to happen with me next year, but if I do end up playing again, it is going to be really weird not playing at the same time as Robert.
KAHLER: You are a half sack behind Mathis in the record books. Now that he’s done, you can definitely pass him if you play another year. Is that motivation enough?
FREENEY: Oh yeah, I don’t know what exactly is going to happen next year. I promise you that me playing next year has nothing to do with that. It’s just a matter of how I feel and If I want to come back next year or not.
KAHLER: What are you thinking right now about your future?
FREENEY: For the last three or four years, I’ve made these decisions a couple months after the season. It takes all the emotion out and whatever happens at the end of year out, so I don’t base my decision on that. So that’s what I am going to do this year, same type of thing.
KAHLER: Did Mathis motivate you to continue playing this season?
FREENEY: Yeah, he texted me and told me, Hey man, don’t call it quits yet. I’m just trying to get 130 sacks. He motivated me. I didn’t know where I was going to be either. At the end of every year I reevaluate it.
KAHLER: Whenever you do decide to retire, is Mathis going to be part of that conversation with you?
FREENEY: Yeah absolutely, I will hit him up and let him know, Hey, I’m done. We’ll see what happens.
KAHLER: Will you be watching the wild-card games closely?
FREENEY: I plan on doing nothing, relaxing, resting my body and getting ready for the next week. I might watch the games, I might not. I’m not a real big “watch football” guy. I don’t do that. Whoever we play, we play.
KAHLER: Second-year linebacker Vic Beasley was the league’s sack leader this year. Have you helped teach him in any way this season?
FREENEY: Yeah, I’ve helped him out a lot. I mentor him and try to help him. And helped him through some of the issues that I had, trying to speed him up and let him know like, hey don’t do this move now, do it then. Just raising his football IQ. I think that has helped him out this year.
KAHLER: Is there a specific play Beasley made that made you think, Oh yeah, he’s listening to me?
FREENEY: There were a few plays where he used the spin move and got a sack, or gets the guy outside. It goes hand in hand, I don’t remember what game that was, but there were a few.
KAHLER: How is Beasley’s spin move compared to yours?
FREENEY: He’s got some work to do, he’s got some work to do, but it’s OK.
KAHLER: Do other players ask you to teach them your signature spin?
FREENEY: Yeah, I help out whoever wants to learn. I’ve talked to different people from different teams. [Denver OLB] Von Miller, [Packers OLB] Clay Matthews. I help out whoever I can.
KAHLER: Now that you are in the twilight of your career, do you view your role as more of a mentor, rather than to be someone who is at the top of the stat sheet?
FREENEY: I don’t think it changes from a mentality standpoint. I think when you get older, you get into a role of a mentor and one of your duties is to help the younger guys. Your mentality stays the same, but being older you help out the younger guys.
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