In a bombshell that was reported by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune Monday, the San Diego Chargers informed safety and defensive captain Eric Weddle they will not pursue a contract extension with him this season. Weddle had made his displeasure known this offseason by stating he would not show up for voluntary team workouts as his form of protest for not getting a new deal. Penalties do not start accruing until mandatory minicamp beginning June 16.
Unless he decides to dig in and holdout, Weddle is expected to be in camp for all mandatory camp activities. He has expressed his desire to retire a Charger, but did state he feels ‘highly, highly disrespected’ for not getting an extension by now. Always the professional, the three-time Pro Bowler will play like his hair is on fire and leave it all on the field, then enjoy being courted by every team with cap space in the league next offseason.
There’s no doubt that if he’s not the top safety in the league, he is definitely in the top five. Weddle is the fourth-highest paid safety in the league and will collect $7.5 million in this final season of his contract. If you averaged the salaries of the top-ten safeties in the league, it comes out to approximately $8 million per season. Weddle is actually making below the market average, so what don’t we know? Is his camp asking for more? Given what he has meant to this team and the San Diego community, maybe they are. They would be justified to ask.
By not working out an extension now, GM Tom Telesco is making his biggest gamble. When Weddle hits the free agent market, teams will break the bank for his services. He will definitely make more than $8 million a year at the end of the day.
The bottom line is, if Weddle ends up a Charger past this season, it will come at a higher price tag than it would if they were to get a deal done while they have exclusive rights to him. Don’t expect Weddle to give Telesco a hometown discount after all that has transpired to this point.
In the very real possibility that Weddle is not a Charger in 2016, what is the backup plan?
The Chargers have a maturing group of safeties and a couple of contenders playing on their rookie contracts. They just signed Jimmy Wilson to a two-year deal in March. The former Dolphin is expected to push Jahleel Addae for the starting strong safety spot opposite Weddle. The veteran will be entering his fifth season and is coming off his best year as a pro, totaling 59 tackles, two passes defensed and one interception.
Jahleel Addae has done nothing but improve with each passing season. The 2013 undrafted free agent hit the ground running as a special teams standout and situational safety. Last season, he was the starting strong safety in five games, playing in eleven games. Although he missed five contests (two to hamstring, three to concussion), Addae had a better statistical season than his rookie year when he played in all 16 games. Granted, he wasn’t thrown into the defensive rotation until midway through the season, but he’s shown a natural aptitude for the position.
Darrell Stuckey is the undisputed leader of the special teams unit and is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection at the special teams position. Stuckey saw lots of action on defense with the litany of injuries the Chargers suffered in the secondary. He is the eldest safety on the roster after Weddle, entering his sixth season. The rest of the field consists of rookies and pros entering their second season. If they are the backup plan, it is not a good backup plan.
No two of those players equal one Eric Weddle.
Even if you add in the top safety prospect in next year’s draft, Florida State junior Jalen Ramsey, it’s going to take time to cultivate that talent. With a formidable cornerback group anchored by Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, the Chargers have a potential top-five secondary if all stay healthy. That’s never been a problem for Weddle, who hasn’t missed a game in five years and only missed four games his entire career. According to Pro Football Focus, Weddle was the best safety in the league and 22nd-ranked player in the league regardless of position.
Yes, he’s 30. Yes, he’s reached that magical number where player performance starts to decline. We know Tom Telesco favors youth over grizzled veterans. That is likely the thinking in taking the wait-and-see approach. However, when you have the best player at his position, you should pay him as such.
We’ve seen what happens when a locker room is too young. Look no further than the Browns, Jets and Bills to see what happens to a team that doesn’t have the veteran infrastructure needed to keep the younger inmates from running the asylum. The Chargers have that veteran infrastructure.
As long as Telesco doesn’t let them all walk away.
The Greg One