Eric Weddle and San Diego share a common thread as thick as the beard on Weddle’s face.
Both went through a bitter divorce from Team Spanos, yet still pull for many of the club’s players.
Late in his Chargers tenure, Weddle sniped at a football front office headed by John Spanos (and Tom Telesco) after aloof messaging made it obvious he wasn’t in the club’s plan.
Saturday’s game in Carson pits the Poway resident opposite Chargers Football Company, LLC, for the first time.
Philip Rivers and Weddle are still close. Although the Ravens didn’t make Weddle available to West Coast reporters this week, Rivers was at the media lectern Tuesday in Costa Mesa, talking about the former Chargers captain, two-time All-Pro safety and special teams ace.
“Great teammate, great player, great friend,” Rivers said.
Said friend and Chargers safety Jahleel Addae, who deemed Weddle’s tutelage vital to launching his NFL career as an undrafted player: “It’s going to be crazy seeing him over there, knowing him as a Bolt.”
Boiled down, Weddle and the Chargers parted after a difference of opinion over what Weddle should be paid.
For both player and team, the move has worked out.
Weddle got a four-year, $26 million contract from Baltimore and has played all 46 games while earning a Pro Bowl selection all three seasons, including this year.
“He’s played very well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday.
The Ravens (8-6) are in playoff contention, and their defense leads the NFL in fewest points allowed.
Harbaugh acknowledged Weddle’s “physical traits are not what they used to be” but said the 33-year-old’s mental prowess more than compensates.
Said Rivers: “As he was here, he’s the quarterback of the defense. He’s the one calling the plays.”
Telesco replaced Weddle with players whose salaries were far smaller than what Weddle commanded on the open market, while the overall NFL pay scale for safeties leveled off and even dipped.
The Chargers concluded the falloff was slight from Weddle to Dwight Lowery and Tre Boston, the starters at free safety in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The salary savings were significant, allowing the team to reallocate dollars to other positions.
Rookie Derwin James is the safety who replaced Boston. He teams up with Addae, who coordinates the secondary.
Already, James is a really good player.
He’s much more of a hitter than Weddle, in addition to being quick, faster and longer.
Along with calling him a “dominant player,” Harbaugh bestowed this honor on James:
“He’s the best pass-rushing safety in football,” the coach said.
So in a football sense, the Spanos-Telesco tandem did right by the club when it nudged Weddle toward free agency.
That the front office didn’t spoon up sugar while dispensing the hard medicine seemed to chafe Weddle, who, along with his agent, correctly noted he’d carried an extra load as a special teams player and mentor, and did many good deeds in San Diego communities.
A pivotal family member during the two aforementioned divorces, Rivers has trended upward in the aftermath.
The quarterback is benefiting hugely from the addition of James, drafted 17th overall in April.
The rookie deserves an All-Pro berth. I rate him the defense’s MVP through 14 games.
Good for Weddle and his agent that the Ravens are paying him $8.25 million this year, but efficient spending is one reason the Chargers club that Rivers has directed to an 11-3 record has a deep, well-rounded roster.
Soon after the relocation, Rivers struggled through four-plus games last year, but not only was he able to maintain continuity for his family by remaining in San Diego, he has directed the Chargers to a 20-6 record since Week 5 last year.
The bittersweet scenario
Weddle said of his free agency in March 2016 that the Super Bowl potential of interested clubs would influence his decision.
While the Ravens still have a shot, it’s his friend Rivers who has the better chance of getting to and winning the next Super Bowl.
Rivers has the NFL’s deepest group of playmakers at his disposal, plus an above-average defense to help steady him.
If Rivers guides the club to Atlanta this winter, Weddle no doubt would be conflicted like so many of his fellow San Diegans.