San Diego Chargers Free-Agent Signings: The Impact of LB Stephen Cooper

Thomas ConroyCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2011

SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 22:  Linebacker Stephen Cooper #54 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after breaking up a third down pass attempt in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on November 22, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 35-14.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In a move that completely went under the radar, the San Diego Chargers re-signed linebacker Stephen Cooper to a one-year contract. Sharp move by GM A.J. Smith, as no one saw this coming.

It was a foregone conclusion that Cooper was going to explore and gain his wealth on the open market. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive a viable offer from another team and returned to San Diego. Cooper will provide needed depth at the inside linebacker position.

The Chargers are clearly on a mission to play in the Super Bowl this February. This was a smart move by the front office, as your adding quality to the roster at the veteran’s minimum price. In years past, Smith would have elected to stand pat and allow his rookies to gain experience on the field.

I don’t see Cooper starting, but rather making a significant contribution off the bench. His true value will show during the playoffs, as he will bring experience and leadership to a young linebacker corps. This move is an insurance policy.

The Chargers have a good blend of age and youth at the inside linebacker position. Yes, they still like the youngsters (Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton) and they will get a long look during the preseason.

You love Butler’s versatility, as he can play all four LB positions in the 3-4 defense and he will become a major contributor on special teams this season. Mouton is a very instinctive football player that sheds blocks and move in and out traffic effectively. The coaching staff fully expects one of them to start alongside Takeo Spikes in Week 1 of the regular season.

This might be the wake-up call that Cooper needs to re-energize his career. Over the past few seasons, his play has been lethargic, as he needs to become more active on the field. Cooper has to stop kissing his biceps on simple tackles and thinking he is irreplaceable on the defense.

If not, then Cooper will be out of football altogether.