Leadership is a hard thing for scouts to evaluate in a player. There are certain intangibles that just can’t be measured by jumping, lifting, running, or even interviews. Some players just have a knack for galvanizing a group of guys together in a locker room toward a common goal. The San Diego Chargers let one such player in linebacker Takeo Spikes go this offseason due to an impending sizable salary cap hit and his lack of on-field contribution due to age. Thankfully the team doesn’t have to worry about finding a new leader to replace his voice in the locker room; they’ve already got one.
Linebacker Donald Butler may be entering his fourth year in the NFL, but 2013 will really only be his third with on-field action. Butler’s entire rookie campaign was wiped out by a preseason torn Achilles tendon, but the former third round pick out of Washington was not deterred by that setback. He knew he would make an impact whenever he was healthy, and boy was he right.
Even though this will be his fourth season, Butler is still only 24 years of age. He clearly has maturity beyond his years as he referred to something defensive coordinator John Pagano said to him during his rookie season. According to UT San Diego, Butler said: “Pagano said that that’s what he eventually needed me to do. Since Day 1, I’ve just been listening and watching, ears open and really just trying to learn as much as I can about being a leader, the guys around me and really, to lead by example.”
His on-field performance has certainly been exemplary for the past two seasons in the starting lineup. The linebacker said he isn’t really an in-your-face type of leader, but he prefers to use a variety of methods to convey his guidance. He said: “Really, having those inspirational words and knowing your guys, knowing the people that you’re out there on the field with, being able to get them going, be able to push just the right button or say just the right thing. It’s special to be able to do that, and they were about to do it through all their years in the league.”
So now the Bolts turn over the full-time role of leader to Butler at just 24 years of age for the linebacking corps which not only lost Spikes, but also long-time stalwart Shaun Phillips on the edge. What may very well come out of this new, expanded role for Butler is a contract extension as well according to several reports. The franchise wants to build its defense around the budding young star and lock him up long-term in lightning bolts.
Some have speculated on what the eventual contract number could be for a player like Butler, but precedence appears to have been set earlier in the offseason with the deal the Miami Dolphins gave former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. His five-year, $34.75 million deal would be just about right for a player of Butler’s age and talent level.
His contact may expire following the upcoming year, but don’t expect the Chargers to let Butler get anywhere near free agency. New General Manager Tom Telesco has been cleaning out some of the bad contracts from the previous regime, and that will allow the Bolts to lock Butler up for the long-term sooner rather than later. What they have to be most enthused about heading into the upcoming season is just how much responsibility such a young player is willing to carry. When all goes according to plan, expect the up-and-coming star to get properly compensated.