Up until 2011, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney had known almost nothing but success in their careers. They were both drafted by the Colts and became stars for a team that made the playoffs every year from 2002 to 2010, making the Super Bowl twice and winning it following the 2006 season. However, the 2011 season marked a collapse for those great Colts teams as they finished with the league’s worst record.
While most of the key players from the Colts’ Super Bowl teams have moved on, Wayne and Freeney have committed to help shepherd the club into a new era. The two veterans will be coming back to an almost entirely new team in 2012, but they have remained true professionals throughout the turnover and remain committed to the only team they have known.
Reggie Wayne was drafted in the first round by the Colts out of the University of Miami. He came into a team that already had Marvin Harrison as the number-one wide receiver, who was just beginning his string of 1,000 yard seasons. However, after a couple of years working with Peyton Manning, Wayne soon became a great compliment to Harrison, providing a one-two punch that few teams in the league could counter. As Harrison aged, Wayne gradually took over the number one position and established himself as an elite receiver in his own right. While the Manning-Wayne pairing didn’t have the records that Manning-to-Harrison did, it was a prolific matchup in its own right.
The 2011 season saw a drop-off in Wayne’s numbers, just as the whole team’s offensive numbers dipped following the neck injury to Manning. While his 75 catches and 960 yards receiving would be solid numbers for most other receivers, they represented Wayne’s lowest output since 2003. With free agency looming for both Wayne and Manning, there was much speculation that the two would be a package deal, with Wayne providing a measure of comfort in Manning’s new locale. However, Wayne and the Colts quickly ended this talk after he signed a three year contract the day that free agency began.
By numerous reports, Wayne had other suitors, but he ended up settling on the Colts. A journal entry on his website from the day he signed read, “I’m thrilled about my decision…. I can continue and hopefully retire a Colt. I’m ready to start playing now.”
Wayne will now be a clear leader on an offense that struggled mightily last year, and his relationship with number one pick Andrew Luck will be a key factor in the Colts’ success on that side of the ball this season.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney was drafted the year after Wayne, coming out of Syracuse. Freeney was also a first-round pick and as he was drafted right at the start of the Colts’ run of success, 2011 marked the first year he didn’t play for a playoff team.
Freeney was an impact player from day one with Indianapolis, collecting 13 sacks his first season and finishing in second place for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Since then he has been a consistent Pro Bowl player, collecting double digit sacks year in and year out. In 2005 he won his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award and he even set the record for most sacks by an Indianapolis Colt. His career has established him as an exemplary pass-rusher, and he brought leadership to the defense that Manning always brought to the offense.
Unlike Wayne, Freeney was not a free agent this season, though he is entering the final year of his contract. With all of the moves going on with the Colts, it seemed that a trade of the aging Freeney could be just around the corner; however, he appears to have had no desire to leave the Colts and is even changing positions this season. After years of causing fear in opposing quarterbacks from the end spot, he will now play more as an outside linebacker in new head coach Chuck Pagano’s scheme.
Freeney has shown to be a tough player throughout his career and continues to display toughness amid the uncertainties concerning his future. During a Sirius Interview with writer Alex Marvez and former Colts President Bill Polian, Freeney said “I’m kind of old-school… I’m more like the era of Magic and Lawrence Taylor, who stayed with that same team for their entire careers – win, lose, or draw.”
Freeney seems committed to the long haul, however much longer it will be for him. With both Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney as on-the-field as well as locker room leaders, Colts fans should know that their team’s young players are in good hands.
By Eric Gustafsson