Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I feel like the San Diego Chargers are going to pick up an Inside Linebacker in free agency. It won't necessarily be someone who is guaranteed to start, and it won't be a big name that commands big money, but they should probably start planning for life after Takeo Spikes.
Spikes played well against the run in 2012, but he struggled mightily in coverage and hinted towards the end of the season that he was considering retiring with one year left on his contract with the Chargers. Jonas Mouton, who was drafted to eventually take Spikes' spot, couldn't get on the field in 2012 after missing his rookie season with an injury. Expecting Mouton to be ready to start in 2013 would be foolish.
That leaves the Chargers in a dangerous position. If Spikes does retire, and the early draft picks are being used to fill the holes on the offensive line and in the secondary, they would probably be best off trying to find a short-term solution for the spot next to Donald Butler. How many of those guys are available to fill the potential vacancies?
- Tim Dobbins, Houston Texans - There's a name we all recognize. Dobbins worked his way up from special teams with the Chargers and started 10 games before being traded to the Miami Dolphins as part of the package to move up and draft Ryan Mathews. He started 5 games for the Texans last year and played quite well. He's by no means a long-term solution, but you can live with him for a year.
- Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears - Boy, that'd be fun. I can't imagine him leaving the Bears, but I never thought Jason Taylor would leave the Dolphins either. Urlacher would be a perfect fit in San Diego, and the 3-4 would require him to cover less ground than he does in the 4-3.
- Bradie James, Houston Texans - Bradie was nearly an All-Pro during his 9 years with the Dallas Cowboys. He started 111 games for them but lost his starting spot to the very impressive Bruce Carter. The Texans picked him up and he had a mediocre year after signing a 1-year contract. At 32 years old, he'll come cheap and there's reason to believe he's still a solid player.
- Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati Bengals - We all remember this guy as someone everyone thought the Chargers would draft before A.J. Smith fooled us all and took Larry English instead. After two solid years, Maualuga has struggled in the Bengals' defense and off the field as well. If he's matured any, I think he'd be a great fit for San Diego and the 3-4 defense.
- Larry Foote, Pittsburgh Steelers - Once thought to be one of the best 3-4 Inside Linebackers in the league, Foote has slipped the last few years and become more inconsistent. Still, at 32 years old, there's probably enough left in the tank to get a decent player for a year or two.
That's not the sexiest list of all time, but we're not looking for a big money free agent here. We basically want Tom Telesco to find a younger version of Takeo Spikes to hold down the ILB spot and provide some veteran leadership on the defense until someone else (Mouton?) is ready to take over.
Imagine you're Tom Telesco. Your hair is perfect and your smile is toothy. You can't seem to talk Takeo Spikes out of retirement, no matter how many times you leave sacks of money on his doorstep. You can't use a high draft pick for a Linebacker that's ready to start and Jonas Mouton can barely tie his own shoes. What do you do? Sign one of the guys on the list above? Sign someone else? Move Jarret Johnson inside and re-sign Antwan Barnes to be a starter?