Linebacker Dwight Freeney (54) in the aftermath of his strip-sack of Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, which sealed the Cardinals' 23-20 win last week.
If Alex Okafor hadn't gotten hurt in Detroit, Dwight Freeney wouldn't be a Cardinal.
He wouldn't have his locker tucked between quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. He wouldn't have dramatically saved the Cardinals' win last week against the Vikings with a strip-sack in the game's waning seconds. He wouldn't be leading the team with four sacks despite signing five games into the season.
Freeney would be retired, actually.
"It got to the point where I thought, 'Man, I might just have to call this quits,' " Freeney said.
"Thank God B.A. called me when he did."
The Cardinals wouldn't have called Freeney, coach Bruce Arians said, if Okafor hadn't hurt his calf against the Lions. It forced the move, one that has turned out well for the pass-rush starved Cardinals. It's turned out well for Freeney too, a
player who isn't the same pass rusher he was when he dominated games for the Colts, but who has found a perfect role with his new team.
That was underscored on the sack of Teddy Bridgewater Thursday, costing Minnesota a chance at a game-tying field goal. Defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who recovered the resulting fumble, said Freeney is a player that will "help us get to the next step."
Freeney said he had only had such a dramatic sack once before in his career. That came when the Colts beat the Dolphins, 23-17, in a 2003 game, when Freeney strip-sacked Miami quarterback Brian Griese with about two minutes left.
But that was in Miami, not at home, where the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd went crazy with the play and the win last week.
"When you have that type of moment, when it happens, it's one of those types of dream feelings," Freeney said. "As a kid, when you're on the basketball court by yourself and you count down, 3,2,1 and shoot … it's no different, other than the fact you've got 80,000 people screaming when you're doing it."
The mindset hasn't changed, even in Freeney's 14th season. If he only gets five plays, he'll try and get three sacks in those five plays. If he has to step in in case someone gets injured, he'll be able to do that too.
"I'm always going to be hungry to be out on the field," Freeney said. "That's not going to change. But that said, I understand my role."
Freeney had finally decided to stick around and play another season after the Chargers let him leave in free agency. He was
a little surprised he hadn't found a home by the time the season was a week or two old, and by then, frustrated and struggling with staying in shape and "having your head mentally turned up to 10 while sitting on the couch," Freeney was ready to end his NFL career.
It wasn't that he hadn't been called – just that the calls came from teams he had no desire to join.
"I wasn't going to a losing team," Freeney said. "I'm not doing that at this stage in my career."
It's a different Freeney than the one who was piling up double-digit sacks for the Colts. Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers, who played with Freeney with the Colts, remembers the superstar who often took a rest day each week in practice to keep fresh for the inevitable postseason appearances.
These days, "he gets stretched like three hours before practice," Powers said with a chuckle. "I'm like, 'Father Time done caught up, huh?' "
Freeney might not be quite as quick off the ball anymore, Powers said, but he still has his famous spin move – the one he killed tackle Matt Kalil on to get to Bridgewater.
"He should get some kind of royalty, anybody who uses the spin move for their sacks," Powers said. "He put it on the map."
There are no royalties, although his incentives could be significant. Freeney earned $200,000 with his Bridgewater takedown as his fourth of the season, and Freeney will earn another chunk of money every other sack the rest of the regular season. General Manager Steve Keim called the payout from last week "the best $200,000 we've ever spent" on Keim's weekly radio appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7.
"I'm not going to try any harder because there is an incentive," Freeney said. "It makes it a little more fun, something to talk about."
Money isn't why Freeney came back. Ever since his 10th year in the league, Freeney said he has reevaluated whether he should keep playing, and this year will be no different regardless of what happens to the Cardinals' Super Bowl hopes.
Freeney came back for the rush of emotion, for the chance to make plays like he did against the Vikings, to hear the crowd roar, to feel the excitement of a potential playoff run that he lived during a couple of Super Bowl trips while playing for the Colts.
"It's the same type of feeling," Freeney said. "The momentum is there, and you feel the energy building in the city, in the locker room. It gets more intense. It's still an amazing feeling.
"A lot of players don't get to feel this way."
Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell and his teammates took 60 children on a shopping spree at Target on Monday