But then came a renaissance with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, and a season spent as a spot contributor for the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in 2016. When 2017 rolled around, Freeney was without a team, but latched on with the Seattle Seahawks, where he recorded three sacks in four games before his surprise release.
By now, he has to be used to renting, not buying (we presume he also owns a home wherever he's chosen to settle, regardless of team). That didn't lessen the shock value of his sudden departure from the Pacific Northwest.
"Oh, completely surprised. Completely surprised. Jaw on the ground," Freeney said Monday of his Week 12 release, via ESPN. "I'm like, what the heck had just happened? It would be one thing if I wasn't producing and all that, but I was producing, and that was the decision that they had to make based on their situation, and like I said, I'm not a general manager, I'm not a head coach, so I don't know those types of things.
"Maybe it had something to do with salary cap or maybe it had to do with the fact that they couldn't line up at linebacker, so they had to go to the deepest position that they had, and I was, I guess, the low guy on the totem pole because I was the newest guy, which was probably a little bit easier for them to do that."
Freeney entered an unfamiliar world in a short period of time, finding himself on waivers for the first time in his career. He anticipated potentially returning to Seattle after an "apologetic" John Schneider told him that was a possibility. He could also return to Atlanta, which had shown interest in the offseason, per the ESPN story.
But it was a familiar face -- former coach Jim Caldwell, who was in charge of the Colts after Tony Dungy's retirement during part of Freeney's time in Indianapolis -- who ended up calling from Detroit. The reunion excited Freeney so much, he even offered to play for the Lions the next day, before he'd even arrived in the Motor City.
Wiser decisions eventually prevailed on the latter part, leaving Freeney inactive for the Lions' eventual loss to Minnesota. But the defensive end finds himself in a familiar role in Detroit similar to the one he occupied in Atlanta. He's slotted behind Ezekiel Ansah, but could be used primarily on passing downs to create quite an edge rushing duo. He could also offer some tips to second-year defensive lineman Anthony Zettel, who has 6.5 sacks of his own this season.
"He's still got juice," Caldwell said, via ESPN. "You take a look. He's been productive anytime that he's been on the field, and we'll expect him to be productive for us as well. How we'll use him? We'll make a real good determination of that as we go through the week. But he'll be able to do something for us."