No team can succeed without a pass-rush, and losing Melvin Ingram, the player the San Diego Chargers were planning to use as their premier pass-rusher next season, forced them to dive into the free agency market once again, hoping to still find something worth paying for. Dwight Freeney is past his prime and doesn’t operate well in a 3-4 defense, but he still is the best possible solution for a bad situation.
A younger, impressive defense and a revamped offensive line. That is what new head coach Mike McCoy and new GM Tom Telesco were going for, but by losing Ingram, entering his second NFL season, they had to adjust. Freeney isn’t coming cheaply, taking up most of their cap space at the moment (2 year, $8.75 million) but the Chargers will clear some more space by June 1 and more than that, might have a better player at their hand than Ingram is at the moment.
Freeney struggled last season, finishing with only 5 sacks as the numbers continued to drop over the last four season. He’s lost a step, or two, and is extremely troubled by playing in the 3-4 system, which makes it easier for defenses to handle him. Someone who used to be a player that can’t be covered unless you’re double teaming him on every play is no longer an exceptional sack threat.
And yet with the young defense, and a flexible scheme at that, the Chargers have worked on building, Freeney should have enough snaps (he won’t be a three-down kind of guy, no more) in situations he’s a little bit more comfortable inflicting damage in.
This does change their plans regarding the left tackle situation, as the team were hoping to sign Max Starks and now will list King Dunlap as their starter, at least until they’re able to free up some cap space in a couple of weeks. Freeney did cost them more than they planned, but there was no other option. The Chargers didn’t take a top prospect in the draft to fill in an outside linebacker position, and John Abraham is someone, at the moment, teams aren’t willing to touch due to his salary and playing time demands.
Will Freeney look like a pro-bowler again? The Chargers would love that, but they’re not that optimistic, despite paying Freeney quite a lot of money. The 33 year-old has been one of the best defensive players around the NFL for about a decade, but that time is gone. All they can ask is for him to be a threat in the limited playing time he does get, which will be in some sort of customary 4-3 defense they’ll be playing in just for him.
Hopefully for the Chargers, signing Freeney isn’t going to hurt their chances of actually making one final upgrade in the offensive line.