When the San Diego Chargers selected linebacker Manti Te’o in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, there were some high hopes he would develop into a force at inside linebacker. Those hopes are all but gone thanks to injuries and ineffective play, and Te’o could be looking for a job this summer.
The Chargers expected Te’o to be similar to the player he was at Notre Dame, a disruptive force on defense to hold down the middle against the run and especially in pass coverage. That hasn’t happened. Pro Football Focus ranked him 126th of 129 inside linebackers last year. He recorded 62 tackles, 0.5 sacks, forced one fumble and had one interception in 12 games. For his career he has just 1.5 sacks, 149 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble. He has also appeared in only 35 games (31 starts) out of a possible 48.
Te’o is still mostly remembered for the catfish hoax that victimized him in college. However, it is the Chargers who probably feel like they are the victims of a ruse at this point. They thought they were getting a great defender and instead have been saddled with one of the worst inside linebackers in the game.
There is still one year remaining on Te’o’s rookie contract, but the writing is already on the wall that the Chargers are not interested in making Te’o part of their future when they declined his fifth-year option. In fact, the Chargers could very well decide to move on from Te’o a year early.
Joshua Perry, the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick this year, will get every opportunity to seize the starting inside linebacker job alongside Denzel Perryman. If he does, and there is an excellent chance that happens, then the Chargers might decide to cut Te’o this season and save $1.1 million against the cap to use in addressing holes elsewhere on their roster.
Undoubtedly, Te’o will have to show up to camp hungry and prove that he can be a productive linebacker in the Chargers’ scheme. The team has lost faith in him. He can’t stay healthy, and when he is on the field he isn’t productive. It might be best for both parties if the Chargers move on from Te’o now.