San Diego adds key leadership in Spikes

Credit the San Diego Chargers for striking first in the AFC West when it comes to adding a big name from outside their organization.

They also get a very big neck.

San Diego agreed to terms with former San Francisco inside linebacker Takeo Spikes on Tuesday. He reunites with former San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who is now San Diego’s defensive coordinator.

Spikes highlights a busy first day for the Chargers, who clearly are bent on returning to the playoffs after they saw their four-year AFC West championship run end in 2010. In addition to agreeing to terms with Spikes, San Diego agreed to bring back right tackle Jeromey Clary and tight end Randy McMichael. They also agreed to terms with free-agent safety Bob Sanders prior to the lockout.

Spikes and Sanders bring terrific leadership to a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. San Diego usually stays away from big-name free agents but they jumped at the chance to add Spikes on Tuesday.

“I think defensively you want to be as strong as you can be down the middle, and with Spikes and then Sanders, you’ve got two strong personalities that bring a real aggressive presence to the defense,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said in a statement released by the team.

The Chargers said the team called Spikes at 7 a.m. PT Tuesday. It was the first minute teams could reach out to players.

“He is an outstanding player. Takeo will bring his physical, aggressive style to our defense,” general manager A.J. Smith said. “I love his competitiveness and instincts. I believe he will be an immediate contributor. To me, this is another Randall Godfrey-type move for the Chargers.”

Spikes, 34, gives San Diego some clarity at inside linebacker. Stephen Cooper, Brandon Siler and Kevin Burnett are free agents. The team wants Burnett back. There was talk the Chargers would be interested in Green Bay’s Nick Barnett, who is expected to be set free soon. But the Spikes’ signing shows where the team’s priority was.

“It’s going to be great playing for Coach Manusky again,” Spikes said in a statement. “One of the intangibles that I bring is my leadership. Even though everybody is from different places across America, to me I feel like the great ones bring everybody together and believe in the same common goal, and that’s to win a championship. That’s why I’m in San Diego.”

The 14-year veteran had 109 tackles for the 49ers last season. Spikes, known for his strikingly large neck, will give San Diego a needed nasty demeanor. The Chargers were pushed around some on defense the past couple of seasons. Spikes and healthy Sanders should change that.

I could see the Chargers having some interest in another San Francisco defender, Manny Lawson, if the price is right. He is a solid outside linebacker.

Now, the Chargers need to lock up safety Eric Weddle and the free agency will be a strong one. Weddle will get interest elsewhere, though. Still, the Chargers view him as a priority.