When Tedy Bruschi went down in training camp with a broken wrist, the Patriots were hurting at linebacker, literally. With virtually no depth at inside linebacker, it was obvious something needed to be done. The Patriots solution? Bring in a linebacker who has gone to 12 Pro Bowls and started 227 games over his 16-year NFL career.
On Monday, Aug. 14, Junior Seau retired from the NFL. Actually, what he said at his press conference was that he was "graduating" from professional football and moving on to the next phase of his life. Four days later, Seau's next phase apparently was to play linebacker in New England because the veteran un-retired and signed a one-year deal with the Patriots.
"I received a call from the New England Patriots and I felt that there was obviously a great interest for them and this is a great fit here," Seau said the day he was signed. "That's what I believe and I believe that they have great plans here. There's a chance to win something big and we're going to go for it."
The addition of the recently retired Seau was certainly unexpected but it immediately improved a Patriots team in dire need of help at linebacker. Seau has lined up at both inside and outside linebacker during his career, giving him the one thing coach Bill Belichick loves: flexibility.
Seau played 13 seasons with the Chargers from 1990-2002 before spending the last three years in Miami. He went to 12 Pro Bowls during his time in San Diego and said he'll always be a Charger at heart. During his 16-year career, the 6-3, 248-pound linebacker has recorded 1,724 tackles, 52 sacks, 15 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 17 fumble recoveries.
While there's some question as to how much the 37-year old still has left in the tank, the signing was a clear indication that the Patriots were desperate for help at the linebacker position. With Bruschi injured, Barry Gardner out for the season and Monty Beisel no longer in New England, Seau has gone from out-of-work linebacker to an integral member of a championship-caliber defense in less than a month. Bruschi hasn't practiced all week while recovering from a broken wrist, so the starting inside linebacker for the Patriots' opening game against Buffalo could very well be Seau and Mike Vrabel.
"I've been through 16 years of defenses, so I've pretty much seen it all" Seau said. "I was surfing two weeks ago. I had to hang up the board and now here we are but there's nothing I won't be able to grasp before opening day."
At 37, the biggest concern with Seau is durability. From 1990-2003, he only missed seven games. During his last two seasons with the Dolphins, however, the veteran has only played in 15 of 32 games because of injuries. With his intense style of play, Seau's body has taken a toll over the years due to all the vicious hits he's put on opposing players. Even Seau himself isn't sure if he can endure the pounding that comes with taking on fullbacks and offensive linemen over a 16-game season.
"We're just going to have to see," he said. "Only time can tell. One thing I won't do is I'm not going to promote something that is an unknown. I believe that going against a fullback is a lot easier than covering a wide receiver, so we'll have to see what happens."
Still, a chance to win the Super Bowl ring that's eluded him for almost two decades was worth putting his body on the line for one more season.
"Obviously, we understand where the focus is here - to win championships," Seau said. "It's something I'm missing in my career and I feel that there is an opportunity I need to seize right now. It's time to get to work."