Dunn saw the writing on the wall when Atlanta signed coveted free agent back Michael Turner Sunday, and asked for and was granted his release from the team.
Several media outlets have already suggested the Colts as possible suitors for the former Florida State star, along with Tampa Bay, Houston, Dallas and Denver. And given Dunn's history with Tony Dungy, it's no surprise that many would think the team would take a look at him — since it was Dungy who originally drafted Dunn in Tampa Bay with the 12th pick in the 1997 NFL Draft.
Dungy said in his memoir, Quiet Strength, that after his first meeting with Dunn, "I left with the feeling this guy could be something special in the league. Coach [Chuck] Noll had always said to err on the side of production over looks, and Warrick certainly put that philosophy to the test. At only 5 feet, 9 inches and 180 pounds, Warrick was small for Florida State, let alone the pros."
Dunn is valuable as a runner and receiver
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Of course, Dunn has been a special player in the NFL. His career totals in 11 years include 2,484 carries for 10,179 yards — an average of 4.1 yards per carry. He's scored 47 rushing touchdowns, and caught 463 passes for 4,009 yards and 15 more scores.
He's one of just 22 players to rush for over 10,000 yards and the only active player with 10,000 rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards. He's been selected to three Pro Bowls.
"Warrick has performed at an extremely high level for a very long time," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. "Making moves like this one is never easy. It's tough. But we have to do what we feel is in the best long term interest of the Falcons. Everyone here in our organization wishes Warrick success in all of his future endeavors."
But as accomplished as Dunn is on the field, he's just as respected off it as one of the league's true ambassadors. Dunn was honored in 2004 as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, the highest honor bestowed on his player. He's also devoted his time to his Homes for the Holidays program, which has helped 74 single parents become first-time homeowners.
Good player? Check. Good guy? Check. Sounds like a perfect fit for Indianapolis as a second back to complement Joseph Addai, right? But is he?
Dunn has made a career out of proving people who criticized him on his physical characteristics wrong, so you'll find none of that here. But, at age 33, he does have a lot of mileage on his legs, which isn't exactly what a team wants from a "change of pace" back. They want someone with high energy who will have a lot of burst.
That's not to say Dunn can't provide that, especially since he won't be the featured back for the Colts and should be well rested. But the team has had success in the past with Dominic Rhodes and Kenton Keith, who are bigger backs that have the mot success running inside. Dunn, with his speed and shiftiness, would be an unknown in the Colts' offense.
That said, he'll have none of the off-field problems of Rhodes, and he would be an upgrade over Keith, particularly in the passing game. But the most serious detriment to Warrick Dunn coming to the Colts is a familiar theme this offseason — money.
The Colts have just $3.3 million available to spend, and it's unlikely they're going to use those limited funds to sign a veteran back who will want — and deserve — a substantial deal, since it could likely be the last one he signs in his career.
Dunn was scheduled to make $4.8 million this year, with $4 million of that in salary. While he's likely to have to take a pay cut for his new team, he won't want to take the veteran minimum of $830,000 just to reunite Tony Dungy when there are other teams out there willing to pay much more.
Instead, as Ed Thompson mentioned in Sunday's chat the Colts would be more likely to look to the Draft for a second running back. Indianapolis doesn't have a selection until late in the second round, and they would be able to sign a back at that selection to a much more cost-effective deal than what they would have to give Dunn.
But, if Dunn would be willing to take a short-term deal with the team, Dungy would probably be interested in having him back in the fold. However, the final decision when it comes to personnel matters ultimately falls on team president Bill Polian, and he likely won't let emotions get in the way of his decision-making. That could cost the Colts a chance to have one of the league's truly special players wearing the Horseshoe next season, but could pay off down the road for the financial health of the franchise.