Hindsight 20-20 On Ryan Mathews Trade

With the knowledge now that the San Diego Chargers appear to be a bit shorthanded at inside linebacker given rookie Donald Butler’s season ending Achilles tendon injury, one can’t help but think back to what might have been. The trade to acquire the 12th overall selection this past April seemed innocuous enough on the surface with a few draft picks changing hands including the Chargers' 28th and 40th choices, but the small piece of that deal overlooked by many was linebacker Tim Dobbins. During his time with the Bolts, Dobbins was mainly utilized on situational downs and special teams, but in 2009 he logged some important plays with the first team defense when Kevin Burnett was nicked up.

Inside backer is an extremely important position in the Chargers 3-4 scheme where veteran Stephen Cooper has developed the skills to take on and shed blockers with ease. Unlike a 4-3 scheme where the linebackers often come clean through the line of scrimmage to make plays, the 3-4 generally requires some strength at the linebacker position to battle opposing linemen at the point of attack. Brandon Siler is also gifted at this technique as his performance in 2009 proved, but those are the only three quality players at one of the most important positions on defense where rotating and staying fresh is paramount to success.

A lot was going to be expected of Butler this coming season whenever any combination of guys needed a blow and a spell had to come onto the field. Now the three man rotation of Cooper, Burnett, and Siler is somewhat vulnerable should the injury bug bite again. Burnett has been somewhat injury prone during his career to this point including last year with the Bolts which forced him to undergo offseason neck surgery with a three to five month recovery period. Should any further injury issues arise this season at inside linebacker, the Chargers are going to be forced to play someone out of position with very little depth now considering Butler’s injury.

That prompted General Manager A.J. Smith to pursue some additional help at the inside linebacker position in acquiring Ali Highsmith off of waivers from the Arizona Cardinals. Although Highsmith has been little more than a special teams dynamo with the Cards, he does share some similarities with Dobbins. His prowess on special teams has to be the most obvious comparison to Dobbins currently, but perhaps when forced into action Highsmith could show some similar abilities to those of his predecessor as an inside backer. Strength could be an issue at only 235lbs. for Highsmith taking on significantly larger offensive linemen, but perhaps he can use leverage and quickness to his advantage in pursuit of opposing ball carriers.

It seemed that Smith became enamored with Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews very early in the NFL Draft process this past spring. Rumors began to swirl around the Bolts after the release of LaDainian Tomlinson that Smith had his eye on Mathews as the heir apparent to LT and would settle for no one else. Pinning himself into that corner, Smith then paid the king’s ransom to move up in the draft order jumping any other teams potentially interested in Mathews in order to secure his rights. Obviously this is all old news, but the question still lingers as to whether the price that Smith paid was excessive or acceptable.

Trying to evaluate a draft at this point is impossible considering the fact that Mathews has yet to even take one handoff in live game action, but that doesn’t prevent the second guessing from taking place. Certainly most fans are thrilled (as am I) to have Mathews in San Diego as a part of the Chargers organization, but there comes a point where the price tag is just too much for the team to afford. The majority of Dobbins’ tackles with the Bolts came over the past two seasons as he accumulated 55 in 2009 and 57 in 2008, but it is his prototypical fit in the 3-4 defense that the team will miss the most about him on their depth chart. At 6’1” 246lbs. his build was such that he could shed blocks and fill the hole with ease while still maintaining enough speed to stick with a tight end over the middle in pass coverage. The hole left by Dobbins has yet to be determined on the field, but Butler’s injury certainly makes the prospect of going into the season with just three healthy inside linebackers and one project a dicey one.

So let’s hear some fan opinion, was the Mathews deal worth it or did the Bolts GM give up a bit too much in pursuing the team’s back of the future? Are the Bolts in trouble with their current conglomeration of inside linebackers, or will they be able to survive the season?

August 11, 2010

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Anonymous said... Aug 11, 2010, 8:42:00 AM

I think that he gave up too much for Mathews. This team has many holes in it and we needed the extra bodies. AJ has been terrible at making trades except for the Charlie Whitehurst deal. He ALWAYS gives up too much for a player that he really covets. Remember he gave up 5 DRAFT Picks for Eric Weddle and 2 2nd rounders for Jacob Hester and Chris Chambers.

Anonymous said... Aug 11, 2010, 8:57:00 AM

You mean like the Philip Rivers trade?

Clint said... Aug 11, 2010, 9:31:00 AM

Too early to call. If Matthews turns out to be the next Adrian Peterson- then this was a kick-ass trade. If he turns out to be the next Justin Fargas, then it was a terrible trade.

Anonymous said... Aug 11, 2010, 11:05:00 AM

Matthews would have been gone by the time the Chargers drafted and instead of this second guessing about it after somebody gets injured (like you can forsee that), you'd be complaining about how the Chargers didn't get the RB they really, really needed.

Anonymous said... Aug 11, 2010, 4:00:00 PM

I just have this feeling that when this season is over...we'll all look back and love the trade up to 12. AJ, Norv,and Ron (all big fans of Mathews in college) have forgotten more football than 99% of the Charger fans/bloggers/tweeters out there....if they believe in this kid's talents that much...I have a very hard time doubting this has bad ending.

One could argue that Dobbins was under utilized here because of the talent in front of him and that Butler was drafted to fill his departure...but who knew Butler would go down for the season either.

I'm a fan of both Antwan Applewhite/ Holt fan...and I would love to see what either can do at the ILB position this preseason.

Eddie said... Aug 11, 2010, 6:50:00 PM

Linebackers are interchangeable parts now. You need a good second unit with the 3-4 defense. One linebacker is not going to make a big difference, unless he is young Junior Seau or Ray Lewis type. Believe me the Chargers have no great linebackers in the whole bunch healthy or not. What they have is good solid group of linebackers, that need to function as one to get the job done. so you see getting some solid good linebackers can get the job done. You really don't need one great linebacker to get the job done. Now Mathews, you need to wait. Running off with the mouth with negative remarks will only get someone to eat their own words at the end. That is how the people talked about Rivers after Manning said he didn't want to play in San Diego. Look what happen? We will see,why get a good RB when you could have got the best.

Rob Ross said... Aug 13, 2010, 3:44:00 PM

It's impossible to predict injuries like this. Mathews is a great "get" and Burnett and Siler should be able to do a good job there. Dobbins was one of my favorite young Chargers though. The guy hit like missle. http://chargercrackback.blogspot.com/

BrandX said... Aug 14, 2010, 3:44:00 AM

Nice work on this story by the way...

I agree with you that the Chargers gave up too much in the Mathews deal. What they only could have done with that pick at number 40??? But the reality of it is that Mathews was a top 15 talent, and in my opinion, a top 5 talent, so it had to be done. I wanted them to take Mathews, but I thought the smart money was on Bryan Bulaga or Rodger Saffold at #28, followed by Toby Gerhart at #40. Bulaga went 23rd, so that would have been tricky, but Saffold has a lock on the starting LT in St. Louis. So much so, they haven't even considered last year's #2 overall pick Jason Smith for the job. He remains the starter at RT.

Sure, the Bolts could use Dobbins right about now, but I think they can make the necessary adjustments and possibly fill in the hole with Holt or Applewhite. Remember, Ron Rivera is a former LB. My doubt is not with the LB corps, it is with the offensive line. This is where they screwed up. By trading away #40, and running a patchwork O-Line, I worry whether or not Mathews can make it through the season. People said that LT's body was breaking down more and more as he got older, but it was the nature of the blocking scheme that changed from Marty's to Norv's. When your lineman's first step on every snap is backward, it is impossible to effectively run the ball, unless the defense was thinking pass. I hate to say it, but I think the Division goes to another team this year...they just lost too much. And if McNeill doesn't get in there soon, Rivers may be having his second knee reconstruction. I am happy to see that I wasn't alone in thinking Mathews cost too much, but what's even better is that I'm not the only one who thinks it had to be done either...So my answers to your questions are: Yes they gave up too much (had to be done), and yes the LB corps will survive (this will be largely in part to the addition of DT Cam Thomas)

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