ATLANTA — Dwight Freeney could hardly wait to get inside the Falcons’ complex and meet his new team.
The NFL’s No. 4 active leader in sacks arrived Thursday after passing his physical and signing a one-year contract.
“For the last few years now I’ve always looked at this team as having a lot of potential to do some great things,” Freeney said. “They have a lot of talent, definitely offensively and defensively we’re getting together now.”
Atlanta hasn’t had a marquee pass rusher since John Abraham left as a free agent after the 2012 season.
Second-year coach Dan Quinn called Freeney a few weeks ago to gauge his interest. Quinn saw Freeney as a missing piece, a 15-year veteran who still causes matchup problems.
The Falcons had the NFL’s fewest sacks last season, the second-fewest in 2014 and fourth-fewest in 2013.
“I know last year they weren’t too good at it,” Freeney said. “That’s not all I do, but it’s something I’m known for. I’m going to try to affect the quarterback as much as possible and help this team as much as possible.”
Quinn said Freeney won’t practice until Sunday or Monday to allow him to get adjusted to the new environment.
Quinn, who helped build a Super Bowl defense with Seattle, has made the defensive line his biggest overhaul project during the offseason.
Vic Beasley, the No. 8 overall draft pick last year, has an expanded role, lining up as an outside linebacker in the base 4-3 scheme and as an edge rusher in nickel packages.
Freeney will play opposite Beasley when the Falcons use their nickel packages. Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn and Tyson Jackson will take turns at end in the base scheme.
Quinn watched film of every snap Freeney took last season for Arizona and decided he was a perfect complementary fit for Atlanta.
“It didn’t take long to see there were some really good games where he affected guys,” Quinn said. “He looked explosive, and the will for him to go for it is there. That’s why it’s a good situation for him and us.”
Freeney, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, is likely to be used between 15-20 snaps a game. That seems like the proper workload, though Freeney insists he can always do a little extra.
“It’s up to them,” he said. “I love to play. I’m one of those guys that you’ll have to pull me off the field. I’m going to help out however possible in whatever situation that is, so if it’s 18 snaps, it’s 18 snaps.
“If it’s 30 snaps, it’s 30 snaps. If it’s 45-50, they’re going to have to give me an IV, but I’ll still go out there and play.”
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows Freeney won’t be asked to do too much. At 36 years old, he can be most effective if used at intervals.
“Dwight can still get up and around the corner,” Dimitroff said. “He has the ability to spin, as we all know. His patented spin move is special. We’re hoping that he can add to our repertoire of getting up field.”
Freeney will wear jersey No. 93 after negotiating with backup end Malliciah Goodman, who switched to No. 54. Freeney wore No. 93 during 11 years with Indianapolis and two with San Diego.
Freeney wore 54 at Arizona, the jersey number he had at Syracuse.