Give the San Diego Chargers credit. They were forced into a bad situation, and they answered it by securing arguably the best player remaining on the free-agent market.
Pushed into a corner, rookie San Diego general manager Tom Telesco responded with his highest-profile acquisition of the offseason by signing pass-rusher Dwight Freeney on Saturday. Freeney agreed to a two-year contract, according to ESPN’s Ed Werder. Telesco was in Indianapolis' front office when Freeney played for the Colts from 2002 to 2012.
Their reunion had little chance of occurring until 2012 San Diego first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram tore his ACL in noncontact OTAs on Tuesday. It was a crushing blow. Not only did the Chargers think Ingram was ready to dominate but he was their top pass-rushing option after the free-agent departures of Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes.
San Diego has a young, exciting defense, but the Ingram injury left a glaring hole. No NFL defense can truly succeed without a legitimate pass rush. There were no better pass-rushing options available than Freeney.
Yes, he is aging at 33 and he has just 13 of his 107.5 career sacks in the past two years. There is no doubt that Freeney, who is known for having one of the best spin moves in the history of the game, is near the end. But this pairing makes sense simply out of desperation. The Chargers weren’t going to find a better replacement for Ingram than Freeney, and Freeney was not going to get a better situation than San Diego. There were few places Freeney would have had a bigger role.
There are questions of whether Freeney is an ideal fit for the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. He played in it last season in Indianapolis and wasn’t as strong of a fit as he was in the 4-3.
I don’t think it is going to be an issue, however. San Diego coach Mike McCoy told Werder that the team would adjust to Freeney. That doesn’t mean the Chargers (whose defensive coordinator is John Pagano -- the brother of Chuck Pagano, who was Freeney’s coach in Indianapolis last year) are going to totally scrap the 3-4 for a 33-year-old player. It means that the Chargers are multiple in their pass-defense looks and that Freeney could line up often in his customary 4-3 defensive end position.
In short, the Chargers will put Freeney in his comfort level. Many think he will succeed in San Diego.
“I like it, and I do think he has something left,” ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson said. “The Chargers are not a super strict 3-4, and Freeney did show that he can still be disruptive last year. I wouldn’t give him all the snaps, but he certainly should be useful.”
ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen this: "There's no question he can fit with that scheme. There are no strict 3-4 defenses, or not many. You take Dwight, you get his hand on the ground and play him for 30 to 40 snaps, let him get after the quarterback."
One of the quarterbacks Freeney will be going after twice a season is close friend Peyton Manning. The two were longtime teammates with the Colts. Manning tried to recruit Freeney to Denver this offseason after Elvis Dumervil departed to Baltimore. Denver was considered the front-runner for Freeney, but the two sides couldn’t come to a financial accord. Somewhat ironically, Denver signed Phillips from San Diego instead. Had Freeney ended up in Denver, it likely would have been Phillips who would have replaced Ingram. USA Today reported that Denver had late talks with Freeney, but I suspect those were more cursory just to gauge whether it could steal him at the last moment.
In the end, I’m not sure whether the Chargers are better than they were before Ingram’s injury. They spent more money than expected, especially with a hole remaining at left tackle. The team is still talking to Max Starks, and the Chargers will get some cap relief June 1 as part of the Jared Gaither cut.
But the Ingram injury and Freeney signing are prime examples of the always-changing NFL world. The Chargers were put in an emergency situation. I don’t think they could have responded better than securing a potential Hall of Famer as a solution.