When Melvin Ingram went down this offseason with a season ending injury, the San Diego Chargers needed to act fast to find a replacement. Ingram was a crucial part of the defense, and Larry English would not serve as a realistic placeholder. Within days, the Chargers signed free agent Dwight Freeney.
In 11 years with the Indianapolis Colts, Freeney has had 7 seasons with at least 10 sacks. He led the NFL in sacks in 2004 and won defensive player of the AFC in 2005. He is the all-time sacks leader for the Colts and was named to the All-Decade Team for the 2000s. There is no questioning his accomplishments and impact in the NFL.
Even with his prolific history, there is no guarantee that he will be as successful with the San Diego Chargers. Optimists would like to see him come back in his All-Star form, but there are two major areas for concern: age and playing style.
Freeney is now 33 years old. He is entering his 12th season in the NFL. It is common knowledge that players start to get worse after they hit a certain point in their career. It is only natural for players to lose athleticism they once possessed as they age. Freeney hasn’t had a 10 sack season since 2010 and last season only had 12 tackles. For a starting defensive player, 12 tackles is a very alarming number. If you play in a game and don’t record a single tackle, it begs the question to what you are offering the defense when you are on the field. Dwight may have just had a bad year, but it doesn’t change the fact that he also is a little older then he was last season.
The San Diego Chargers run a 3-4 base defense. This means they have 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers. Freeney has been signed to play in the linebacker position for the Bolts. The problem is, Freeney has never been successful at this position. All of the seasons he was selected to the Pro Bowl, he was a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. When the Colts switched to a 3-4 defense like San Diego’s, his impact was dismal. His past two seasons in the formation have been the worst two in his career and the reason why the Colts didn’t resign him. The Chargers essentially have hired Freeney to do the one thing he has proven he can’t.
With these two concerns, it is unlikely that Freeney will have a Pro Bowl season. That being said, he can still be productive on this defense. Freeney has valuable veteran experience and postseason success that will be very important in the locker room. He can serve as a mentor for the younger players on the roster and could help Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes become stars.
At the same time, he still is a very good football player. He can still rush from the outside linebacker position, just not as well as from the line. The Chargers are also rumored to be developing a defense that will sometimes set up in the 4-3 set, giving Freeney the chance to be his old self in certain instances. He is not the player he once was, but signing Dwight was still the right move.