Eric Weddle proving to be ‘difference-maker’ during Rams’ run to the Super Bowl
The former Utes All-American is making most of this out-of-nowhere opportunity to join his former team
Is there any story in the NFL that’s more fun than the comeback of Eric Weddle? His 11th-hour invitation to join the Rams has turned into a Hollywood ending for his playing career, a special delivery from the football gods that has sent him to his first Super Bowl two years after he retired, at the age of 37.
There have been several players who have unretired, but this wasn’t a case of a player getting the itch to play again a la Brett Favre, Reggie White and many others. “There was no itch, no inclination to play,” he said last week. “I was happy.”
He had moved on.
Weddle had just interviewed to be the head football coach of a high school near his home in San Diego. But then this opportunity dropped into his lap. With safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp injured, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris called Weddle and asked him to leave his two-year retirement and join the team for the playoffs.
This was an invitation from a championship-caliber team that allowed him to skip training camp and the exhibition season and the regular season and sign up for the fun part — the playoffs. And it was one more chance to reach the Super Bowl, something Weddle had never achieved.
On the surface, it seemed likely he would be used as insurance, playing sparingly, but mostly waiting in the wings, just in case he was needed. After all, he had been out of the game for nearly 25 months. He had played weekly pickup games of basketball and lifted weights and performed repeat sprints once a week, but that was it. He hadn’t tackled anyone or covered a receiver since December 2019. “I was not in football shape,” he said.
But instead of spot duty, Weddle has been called on for major playing time. He played only 19 plays in the wild-card game against the Arizona Cardinals, largely because it was a blowout and he and the Rams didn’t want him to take on too much too soon. He played 61 plays — 85% of the total defensive snaps — in a three-point win over Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional championship, collecting four tackles.
In the conference championship game against the San Francisco 49ers Weddle played every defensive snap (50 plays) and collected a team-high nine tackles, four of them solo. With the Rams trailing by three points early in the fourth quarter, he made one of the game’s big defensive plays. He slipped through traffic into the backfield and cut down running back Elijah Mitchell for a 1-yard loss. Two plays later the 49ers had to punt and the Rams tied the score and went on to win 20-17, sending the team to the Super Bowl.
As NFL.com’s Kevin Patra noted, “Weddle isn’t just on the field. He’s been a difference-maker for a Rams defense that boasts stars like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.”
Weddle, the former Utah two-way star, has played 131 snaps in three games, which is more than Terrell Burgess has played all season. Burgess, another former Utah player, was a third-round draft pick in 2020 and was supposed to replace Weddle after his retirement.
Weddle is uncertain if his role will change with the likely return of Rapp from concussion protocol. Rapp started all 17 regular-season games and was the team’s second leading tackler.
“Whatever my role is, I’m good with, right? I’m not here to get in anyone’s way other than push for greatness and be a guy that is accountable and gonna accept his role and be great at it.” — Eric Weddle
“Whatever my role is, I’m good with, right?” Weddle told Stu Jackson of Rams.com. “I’m not here to get in anyone’s way other than push for greatness and be a guy that is accountable and gonna accept his role and be great at it.”
Before retiring, Weddle played 13 years in the NFL — nine with the Chargers, three with the Ravens and one final season with the Rams. The Rams’ defensive system has changed since then, but Weddle is out there directing traffic on the field. During Weddle’s first week of practice with the team, Jackson noted that teammates and coaches said it looked like he’d been on the team all season based on the way he was playing.
- Head coach Sean McVay said, “We talk about igniters all the time, you make everybody around you better. That’s what Eric Weddle is. I think he’s only going to build on this for next week.”
- “Just a veteran guy that understands the game,” Donald said. “He’s so smart. There was one play, he was able to show and then he’s seeing the quarterback come check, he’s able to jump back and mess things up for him and kind of make things a little blurry.”
The bottom line is that this encore act has gifted Weddle another chance to earn a ring. He had played in nine playoff games in his first 13 years in the league and not since his rookie year had he reached the conference championship game. Now, in the second phase of his career he never saw coming, he finds himself bound for the Super Bowl.