Should the San Diego Chargers care? Yes! They should absolutely care. Here's why...
Nick was a free agent heading into the 2011 season. Born and raised in southern California, and seeing a hole in the middle of the Chargers' defense, he seemed to push to get signed by the Bolts before getting a very generous offer from the Bills (3 years, $11.5 million). By cutting him, the Bills kept $3.5 of that million for themselves, making it more of a 2 year deal worth $8 million.
Obviously, Barnett must be washed up, right? No, actually. According to Pro Football Focus, Barnett was the 9th best 4-3 Outside Linebacker in the entire league in 2012. "That must be a fluke," you're saying. Well, Nick graded out as the 12th best 4-3 Outside Linebacker in the league in 2011. That's not a bad use of funds by the Bills to sign him when they did.
So, why was Barnett available before 2011? After missing 5 games in 2008 and 12 games in 2010, the Green Bay Packers assumed he would never shake the injury bug. They also used those injuries to find a replacement on their bench, a replacement who was much cheaper. In his two seasons in Buffalo, Nick Barnett started all 32 games on the schedule. It appears he shook the injury bug.
What makes me think Barnett would be a good fit for the 3-4 defense, you ask? Well, he's done it before. In 2009, the Packers switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense and Barnett made the switch from MLB to RILB. He was the 2nd best 3-4 Inside Linebacker in the league that season, just below Patrick Willis and just above Ray Lewis.
At 32 years of age, I wouldn't look for a long-term deal with Barnett. However, he is one of the best cover Linebackers in the league and is a good 4 years younger than Takeo Spikes. Cutting Takeo saves the team $3 million in cap space and $3.7 million in real cash. That money would be much better spent on Barnett, at least as far as on-field production goes. Tom Telesco should at least explore the option and see if he can't sign Barnett to a deal that the team can easily get out of in 2-3 years (like the Bills did).
George Wilson is a fun story. The old saying goes "A Cornerback is a Cornerback because he didn't have the hands to play Wide Receiver." There's also some that say that Strong Safeties are "Linebackers that aren't big enough to cut it in the NFL". Wilson was a Wide Receiver at the University of Arkansas, made the team as an undrafted free agent by being good on Special Teams, and eventually became a Free Safety before moving to Strong Safety.
This is especially silly because I once earned the ire of Kassim Osgood by questioning his statements that he could play Safety, when he was trying to come up with reasons for the Chargers to bring him back. Wide Receivers can't play Safety! They damn sure can't play Strong Safety!
Playing next to Jairus Byrd, Wilson proved me wrong. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson graded out as the 8th best Safety in the entire league in 2012 and was outstanding in coverage. So, why would the Bills release him? Wilson had an escalator in his contract that, when activated, boosted his salary from $1.7 million (last year) to $2.9 million (this year). He activated it, they cut him.
Wilson's past is nearly as glimmering as Barnett's. Despite going through a number of coaches and dealing with more than one Defensive Coordinator that didn't want him as a starting Safety (a bit like Steve Gregory in San Diego), here's where Wilson ranked among Safeties each season:
- 2012: 8th (16 starts/16 games)
- 2011: 35th (13 starts/13 games)
- 2010: N/A (2 starts/16 games)
- 2009: 4th (12 starts/16 games)
- 2008: N/A (3 starts/16 games)
Is that type of player worth $2.9 million a year? Probably not, but he's a steal at $2 million a year. I think the Chargers should try and sign Wilson to a 2-3 year deal to plug one of the gaps in a very barren secondary so that they can use the draft to rebuild the offensive line and Cornerback spots.