Matt Wilhelm spent six seasons in San Diego and expected to spend a couple more until his plans were disrupted when the Chargers released the veteran linebacker. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound defender worked his way into the Chargers starting role in 2007, starting 14 of the 16 games he participated in at inside linebacker.
At 28, Wilhelm is looking for a new home, and that home could be in New England. Though calls to his representatives weren't immediately returned, one league insider told PatriotsInsider.com, "I'm sure they've had conversations." Wilhelm's representative also represents James Sanders and former Patriots players Corey Dillon and Rodney Harrison.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Matt Wilhelm, right, reaches out to tackle Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the fourth quarter of the Chargers' 41-3 victory in an NFL football game in Denver on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007. Denver has won just two of its last eight games at Invesco Field, where it's been the Broncos sucking air at altitude while opponents dance around in a Rocky Mountain High. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
We wanted the inside scoop on Wilhelm, so we asked Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport.com to shed some light on the former Charger linebacker.
Matt Wilhelm has all the skills to be an above-average starting inside linebacker, especially in today's pass-happy NFL. He has smooth hips and rare anticipation, allowing him to bait opposing quarterbacks into making bad throws. He also has the strength and athleticism to be effective against the run, although he played horrendously against the run last season, which led to his demotion.
The biggest problem with Wilhelm seems to be his drive. He came into the league very cocky as a rookie (he said he was drafted as a replacement for Junior Seau, which got a good laugh), but slowly climbed the ladder by proving himself on special teams and in the nickel defense.
Wilhelm earned a contract extension late in the '06 season and played very well in '07, answering the critics who said there would be a drop-off at ILB (Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper were stepping in as first-time starters replacing Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey). However, he regressed significantly last season and was undisciplined against the run. That led the Chargers to promote Tim Dobbins into the starting lineup, even though Dobbins is a huge liability against the pass.
Wilhelm still played about 50 percent of the snaps and played in the base defense against pass-first offenses (like the Colts and Broncos). However, it was clear he had fallen out of favor. When the Chargers signed ILB Kevin Burnett this offseason, the writing was on the wall.
How Would Wilhelm Fit In New England?
The role Wilhelm would play in New England could be as one of the reserve backers behind Patriots starters Jerod Mayo and Tedy Bruschi. With a total of twelve linebackers already on the roster, Wilhelm may think twice about signing with the Patriots if he is looking for a starting job. At this point, he may not have much choice but to look for a backup role.
New England added Vinny Ciurciu, and Paris Lenon during the off-season to shore up the interior behind the starters. Eric Alexander and Gary Guyton return as the team's primary interior backups, both have seen starting experience. The team drafted Tyrone McKenzie who could play inside or outside according to NFL scouting reports. However, McKenzie is done for the season with a knee injury and New England is well known for not committing a roster spot for backups. (Monty Beisel, Chad Brown and Victor Hobson are some recent examples).
Adding Wilhelm could boost the competition behind Bruschi while only having minimcap cap implications. Alexander and Guyton have minimal impact contracts; Alexander will earn $620,000 base salary and Guyton is in the final year of his rookie deal with a base of $385,000. Lenon signed a one-year $800,000 deal with just $50,000 as a signing bonus and a base of $750,000. Ciurciu may be on less sure footing with a one-year $620,000 deal. The numbers indicate the Patriots could have no problem adding a new player to the group to compete, as long as they can squeeze the contract in under the cap