Over the past decade, outside linebacker Shaun Phillips has been one of the best and consistent players on the San Diego Chargers. In seven of his nine years in the NFL, Phillips recorded at least seven sacks. He is clearly one of the best players on the team and a force to be reckoned with. Phillips, who will be 32 by the start of next season, is a free agent this off-season, and the team must decide whether or not to bring him back.
Last season, the Chargers had a logjam at outside linebacker. Phillips started opposite Jarret Johnson, who the Chargers signed in the off-season. They used a rotation at the position, with rookie first-round-pick Melvin Ingram, Antwan Barnes, and Larry English all coming off the bench, primarily in obvious passing situations. Barnes, who had 11 sacks in 2011, barely saw the field in 2012 and picked up just nine tackles and three sacks all season. Ingram looked impressive at times, but only notched one sack.
Part of the thinking behind the depth at the position is that it keeps all of the players fresh. But it can also prevent guys from getting into a rhythm and limits the opportunities for young guys like Ingram, who need all the reps they can get to gain experience.
Before the Chargers re-sign Phillips, they must decide if they can afford to keep so many talented outside linebackers on the roster. They also have to wonder if Phillips will be as effective next season.
In 2012, he showed he could still get it done as he recorded 9.5 sacks, the third highest total in his career. However, he mustered just 3.5 sacks the year before, which prompted the team to draft Ingram in the first round of the NFL Draft as Phillips’ eventual successor.
Just because Phillips is only a year older doesn’t mean a decline will be gradual. A lot of NFL players have seen their production fall off a cliff in just one short year. If the Chargers do decide to retain Phillips, they better hope they’re getting the 2012 version of Phillips and not the injury-riddled 2011 version.
Even if he isn’t as effective, Phillips can still act as a mentor to the others. Additionally, given his reputation and regardless of his age, he’ll still take a fair share of double teams which will free up the others to get one-on-one situations. Phillips’ mentorship and presence on the field should be extremely beneficial for Melvin Ingram, and should be considered when deciding whether to bring Phillips back.
And if Phillips does continue his consistency into next season, the Chargers pass rush has a chance to be dominant.