Healthy Sanders a big addition in San Diego

For a team that usually doesn’t wade into unrestricted free agency, the San Diego Chargers made a big splash on Thursday night.

As labor uncertainty threatens to shut down the league for an indefinite amount of time, the usually passive Chargers got a jump on the league by coming to terms with former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders. Sanders, 30, signed a one-year deal.

SandersSandersIf healthy, Sanders is a substantial addition to this defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the NFL. However, counting on Sanders’ health is not advisable. Sanders has played in just nine regular-season games for the Colts in the past three years. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 when the Colts won the Super Bowl. Sanders played in one game in 2010. He was hurt in the season opener with a torn left biceps. He was recently cut by the Colts.

“We are all very excited to add Bob Sanders to our defense,” General Manager A.J. Smith said. “We have always held him in high regard. He’s a smart, physical, instinctive player. His intensity and playmaking ability can make an immediate impact on our defense.”

Sanders, 5-foot-8, 206 pounds, is a tough, tenacious player when healthy. He will give this team toughness. The Chargers clearly hope to pair him with Eric Weddle. However, Weddle could end up being an unrestricted free agent. If he does, he will be very popular on the open market. The Chargers will have to pay to keep him. Weddle’s agent, David Canter, said Thursday night that Sanders’ deal did not impact Weddle’s decision.

“Eric is excited,” Canter said. “This is a tremendous pickup for San Diego. If Eric is in San Diego, he and Bob will make a great safety tandem.”

If Weddle stays, Steve Gregory will likely be the nickel defensive back.

This is a gutsy move by a team that clearly understands that it needs to make some big moves this year to recapture its status as one of the NFL’s better teams. San Diego was 9-7 in 2010 and finished out of the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Obviously, the Chargers know they must become more aggressive.

It will be interesting to see what else this team does once free agency starts. The Chargers have five drafts picks in the first three rounds. An active free agency and a fruitful draft could help make this team elite again.

If Sanders can stay healthy, this was a major first step.