Olshansky became an immediate starter for the Chargers, playing in 75 games over the course of his five year contract with the team. But that contract has now expired, and however much Igor would love to stay with the San Diego Chargers, he sees the writing on the wall:
I would love to be back with the Chargers. I love the fans, I love the city, I love the team. But my mind is telling me, probably not. Looking at the history of the Chargers, they usually take care of players early. Not many players go out to free agency and come back to the Chargers. The only person I can remember doing that was Kris Dielman.
Olshansky is an interesting player; for all the potential in his 6'6" 300lbs frame, he's never really developed into an impact defensive end. He's been a solid starter, sure. But has he lived up to his lofty draft status, just a few picks outside of the first round? If you ask me, I would argue that he has not lived up to his potential, but I don't think he has plateaued, either. The Chargers took Olshansky knowing that he would be a project; he hadn't even played organized football until late in his high school career. And even then, he was getting by on brute strength alone. In the pros, Igor has yet to make that leap into being an elite defensive linemen. But to the man's credit, he has improved every year, albeit at maybe an elephant's pace and not a cheetah's:
The last 10 ten games I was very, very effective. I was a dominant player. I was a dominant run stopper, and when I had my opportunities to rush the passer I laid the quarterback out completely. I felt I was playing the best football in my career over the last 10 games. But when you’re only playing 20 snaps a game, and you’re getting 2-3 tackles and hitting the quarterback once, that’s pretty effective.
It's clear that Igor feels he's played well down the stretch, but he's at a loss as to why his playing time was cut so dramatically. It's been pretty obvious that the Chargers have rotated Olshansky out on third downs and obvious passing situations, due primarily to his perceived lack of pass rush ability. Its no secret the Chargers defense have struggled mightily in the passing game this year, finding it difficult to get after the quarterback and to get off the field on third down. Guys like Jacque Cesaire and Ryon Bingham have gotten increased playing time this year at the expense of Olshansky. Are the Chargers preparing the successors to Olshansky, or are these other guys simply better pass rushers while not necessarily being better football players?
I had a feeling that I might not be in their plans for the future, and that they’d rather play their other players and only use me when they absolutely had to. Last year I took 65% of the snaps, that’s about 38-40 snaps a game. This year, I’ve taken probably 20-25 snaps a game. In the beginning of the season I played more. But ever since the coaching change, my planning time has been cut in half.
Whose call was it to play Olshansky less? Did that come from the new defensive coordinator? The defensive line coach? Or perhaps it came from upstairs?
I’m not blaming anyone. I don’t know what the reason is. But it was definitely something. In [the playoff game against the Steelers] I had 5 tackles, Jamal Williams had 5 tackles. That was the most important game of the season. No one else was really that productive. Why would you cut a productive player’s playing time?
It’s a tricky thing, dealing with coaches and knowing your role. I had to know my role on the team. I didn’t want to make any problems for anybody. I didn’t want to make problems for myself and be a distraction. So I quickly realized my role on the team; if we call your number, you get out there and play your ass off. If we don’t, you sit on the sideline until you are called up again. So that’s basically the role I played this year. When they called me I went out there and played my butt off. And when they didn’t, I sat quietly on the sidelines, jumping around, stretching, and making sure I stayed warm.
The same thing happened with Drayton Florence two years ago. He played a lot in the beginning of the year, and later on in the season you barely saw him.
If you ask me, Igor Olshansky has done everything he's supposed to do to warrant a contract extension. Like he said, he's kept his mouth shut and he's gone out there and played hard. He's been very durable throughout his career in San Diego, something his teammate and fellow defensive lineman Luis Castillo has struggled with. Considering the Chargers serious lack of depth along the defensive line, I am finding it hard to believe they would pass up an opportunity to re-sign Olshansky. Perhaps they feel he'll be too costly for them? But lets not forget, this is the same San Diego Chargers front office that made Luis Castillo one of the highest paid defensive ends in the league. And just for kicks, lets compare the two player's numbers this season:
29 tackles, 2 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT
39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT
Pretty comparable, especially when you take into account that Olshanksy was not on the field as much as Castillo was. Impact plays make you a lot of money in the league, and Castillo certainly has the greater knack for that than does Olshanksy. But there is a place for Igor on this team. It takes a certain type of player to play defense line in the 3-4, a scheme requiring their linemen to eat up blocks, hold the line of scrimmage, and generally remain anonymous while the linebackers make the plays. It's why the highest profile defensive linemen are playing in 4-3s. Playing on the Chargers defensive line is not a job full of glory, it's one of guts and grunts:
My problem was when [Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune] said that basically I didn’t matter. Everything I had done in the last five years didn’t matter. I was expendable. Basically saying no one cared about me. That hurt my feelings a little bit. I played injured; I played hurt like everybody else obviously. This is a rough game. But I gave my blood, sweat, and tears to this program for the last five years. I kept my mouth shut, kept my nose to the grindstone, and busted my butt to help my team. But when someone says that all of that doesn’t really matter, then that’s not cool.