Eric Weddle, Jacob Hester Paying Off

A.J. Smith was criticized for overpaying in trades that landed Eric Weddle and Jacob Hester in '07 and '08, respectively. However, a few years have gone by and both players have proven to be worth the steep price.

Once the lockout finally ends, San Diego's first order of business will be re-signing FS Eric Weddle. The Chargers have been high on Weddle since the day they drafted him, when Smith gave up a second-round pick, two third-round picks and a fifth-round pick to land the versatile safety from Utah.

Weddle has made big plays since his rookie year, when he picked Peyton Manning during San Diego's upset victory in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. He has six interceptions -- two of which he returned for touchdowns -- and 28 pass breakups for his career. Over the last three years, he averages more than 100 tackles per season.

Weddle is a cerebral player who excels at reading quarterbacks and anticipating routes. He also does a great job of putting his secondary mates in the right positions. He lacks the power to be an enforcer and needs to be more consistent when making open-field tackles, but overall he ranks in the top third of NFL safeties.

FB Jacob Hester
Jaime Squire/Getty
Jacob Hester's performance is more difficult to grade analytically, as his biggest contributions come by freeing up other players to make plays. Nonetheless, coaches and scouts rave about the fact that Hester has improved by leaps and bounds during each of his three seasons and has emerged as a key cog in the Chargers' backfield and on special teams.

Hester made big strides as a lead blocker in 2010, showing better vision and recognition. He helped the Chargers rank in the top half of the league in rushing yards after finishing next-to-last the year prior. He also helps the offense as a check-down receiver (22 grabs in 2010) and as a short-yardage back, as Norv Turner loves to lean on the fullback dive.

Also, despite San Diego's special-teams woes, Hester's contributions in the third phase of the game cannot be discounted. He has blocked punts, forced fumbles in coverage and even run the ball on fake punts. He contributes to every facet of the special teams and will quickly become a favorite of new coach Rich Bisaccia.

He won't fill the shoes of the man he replaced, future Hall of Famer Lorenzo Neal, but Hester has justified the trade Smith made to acquire him in the third round of the 2008 draft (trading a 2008 fifth-round pick and a 2009 second-round pick).

How do the Weddle and Hester deals look now? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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