Following the season-ending injury to outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, the San Diego Chargers found themselves in a bind on defense. That hole was filled on Saturday morning when the team agreed in principle with veteran free agent Dwight Freeney.
The 11th pick of the 2002 NFL Draft, Freeney played his entire career so far with the Indianapolis Colts. When the Colts hired Chuck Pagano as their head coach prior to the 2012 season, however, Pagano brought along the 3-4 defensive alignment he had used with great success in his time with the Baltimore Ravens.
Freeney, one of the all-time great speed pass rushers in a 4-3 system, saw his statistics decline accordingly. Playing in 14 games, Freeney registered only five sacks and one forced fumble. As part of a continued shift towards a younger roster, the Colts decided to release Freeney following the season.
Freeney’s visit with the Chargers this week was met by some skepticism. What was to make fans in San Diego believe that a 33-year-old pass rusher coming off his worst statistical season would add significant value to the Bolts’ defense?
While doubt in this situation is obviously understandable, I happen to think Freeney is an excellent signing for a Chargers defense that was thrust into a sort of no-win situation.
When you have an up-and-comer like Ingram at one of your key defensive positions, you don’t just simply plug in the “next man up” and expect the same level of performance. Freeney brings a known level of talent to the outside linebacker position.
Defensive coordinator John Pagano has already stated that they could “custom fit” the defense to Freeney’s talents. John is also the brother of current Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, so if you think the Chargers haven’t done their due diligence on this move, perhaps it’s time to look closer. The ranks of the NFL are often referred to as a type of “fraternity”, and in this case, that can be taken literally.
Finally, Freeney’s 2012 season was his first in a 3-4 lineup. Even if the Chargers don’t realign their defense at all, it would be ridiculous to think that he won’t adapt with more time to practice and improve his technique from a two-point stance. His versatility and leadership will give the Chargers’ defense a boost, even if he’s not attacking the quarterback on every down.
Oh, and by signing with the Chargers, Freeney will get to meet up with an old friend from back in Indianapolis at least a few times this year. I bet he remembers a lot of practices with Peyton Manning‘s red No. 18 practice jersey — and orange and blue don’t mean “stop” this season.