It’s a harsh deal, the mean business of the National Football League. Yesterday, it seemed, Dwight Freeney and Austin Collie were two big parts of one of the game’s greatest teams. And today, they’re gone.

Not that it should come as any surprise.

For both good men, this was a fait accompli some time ago. It was just a matter of time when the Colts would decide to tell both free agents they were not going to be retained.

That day came this afternoon, when both were thanked by Colts management for their good work and their commitment, but it was time to let them walk.

For so many years, Freeney was among the most fearsome pass rushers the game has ever seen. In my mind’s eye, I can still see him undressing Ravens Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden in Baltimore, embarrassing the big left tackle with a crazy assortment of bull rushes and manic spins.

He was the rarest of all defensive players: a game changer. In his prime, the Colts could count on at least four of five “splash’’ plays from Freeney, a sack, a strip sack, something that would terrorize a quarterback and his left tackle. Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t keep track, but I wonder how many times Freeney has drawn false starts from the man across the line of scrimmage.

In a statement on Colts.com, team owner Jim Irsay said of Freeney, “Few people have meant as much to the success of the Indianapolis Colts as Dwight Freeney. He has been a dominant player, which is all the more impressive considering his size for his position, and he has won a lot of games for this franchise. Dwight was an artist, a joy to watch, and the dedication he put toward his craft was a rare quality.