Bring back the best

The Chargers may very well have the league's deepest and most talented linebacker corps. Shawne Merriman and Steve Foley are pass rushers with double-digit sack ability; Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey are tackling machines on the inside; and Shaun Phillips, Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm provide youthful depth and special teams contributions.

Still, I would suggest that after this season, the team's biggest free agent signing should be another linebacker. That is because I believe the Chargers should do the right thing and bring back Junior Seau.

Seau is the greatest defender in Chargers history. In his sixteen-year career he has recorded 1,666 tackles, 52 sacks and 15 interceptions. Heck, he even snagged two receptions playing some tight end for the Bolts back in 1999 - but thanks to Antonio Gates those contributions are likely no longer necessary. But for anyone who has ever had the privilege of watching Seau play, it is obvious that his impact on the game could never be expressed in a box score.

In a league driven by big contracts and even bigger egos, Seau is one of the real good guys. He is a fierce competitor and a passionate leader. Just as importantly, the fans love him for all he has done not only on the field, but in the community as well. He's one of the classiest men ever to play the game, and one day he will be rewarded with a bust in Canton for his efforts.

That bust will have to wait though, because Seau plans on playing in 2006. And although he is still under contract with the Miami Dolphins, it will cost them over $2 million to retain his services for next season, so it is expected they will release him as new coach Nick Saban continues his roster overhaul. That means Seau will likely be looking for a new home, or with any luck, looking to come back home.

When the Chargers first released Seau after the 2002 season, they did so for two reasons: they felt he was too injury prone (which has proven to be true, as he has ended the last two seasons on injured-reserve), and because he was too expensive.

The injury issue should not be much of a factor if Seau were to return to San Diego, as he would likely play only a limited role as a reserve on defense, with his biggest contributions coming in the locker room and in the fourth quarter. It is a role he would have been reluctant to accept in the past, but would likely be fine with at this stage of his career.

As for the money, Seau is not a greedy man, and would likely sign for the veteran's minimum if it meant a chance to return to his hometown. This would also go a long way for the Chargers towards building some good will with the fans of the city as they continue to make their push for a new stadium.

The Chargers are an immensely talented team, but they have struggled in close games. Even at 36 years old, Seau can still make plays, and could be a huge threat blitzing from an inside linebacker spot or just roaming sideline to sideline tormenting opposing running backs. Of greater consequence, however, is his ability to inspire those around him to raise their level of play.

The team owes this opportunity to Seau. They should give him a chance to retire with the team for which he played so valiantly for 13 years. Beyond that, it would give him one last chance to play for a contender, and to get that Super Bowl ring that has eluded him during his illustrious career. Junior Seau has done so much over the years for the Chargers, and now they should do the right thing and pay him back, by bringing him back to do even more.


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