Smith's Past Development, Not Wild Spending

The Chargers will hit the negotiating ground running, not able to waste any time getting their free agents signed.

While some teams have little exposure to unsigned players, that's not the case with the Chargers. Twenty-one free agents of various designations clog the Chargers' to-do list, and many of those minus a signature on a legal document are key components.

"We have a lot of our own players that we would like to keep," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith told "As soon as this thing is resolved, we're going to go right back to our philosophy, which is (to sign) what's now a log-jam of a lot of our own Chargers."

That's been the Chargers' way under Smith, and don't expect that to change in this topsy-turvy offseason. Smith has never been a big player in the free-agent free-for-all, electing to draft, develop and reward those he deems worthy.

"We've got a great budget and plan thanks to (Chargers president) Dean Spanos' continued support and direction to build a championship team," Smith said.

The Chargers need to get that championship-mojo back. While there are usually mentioned among the league's top-tier teams, the truth is they haven't lived up to that billing.

Hard to believe, considering the mass of talent on the roster but the Chargers have won but one playoff game in the last three seasons.

So, excuse Chargers fans for wanting more this year, one season after the team's four-year run of AFC West titles was snapped by the Chiefs. One year after the Chargers finished but one game over .500 and out of the playoffs.

To get back to the postseason, it's believed Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson will be back, some $12 million richer as the team's franchise player. His inclusion in one of the NFL's most explosive offenses can't be underscored. With elite quarterback Philip Rivers able to aim balls down field and trust Jackson's acrobatic ability and sure hands, Jackson makes the Chargers go.

But Jackson isn't the only one on the business end of Rivers' offerings who must be accounted for.

Malcom Floyd, the Chargers' No. 2 wide out, is someone with the opportunity to flee as a free agent. But the feeling is the Chargers will attempt to bring Floyd back, cognizant of his ability and hopeful that he has better luck avoiding the injury bug.

Plus, with the possibility of Jackson leaving next year, it's imperative the Chargers have a fallback position in Floyd.

While those are the integral players on offense, the Chargers have some tasks to complete on the ball's other side, too.

Free safety Eric Weddle is a free agent and the Chargers made no moves toward preventing him from becoming one. The Chargers declined to re-work Weddle's deal they it could, and that could cost the Chargers a significant amount of money.

While Weddle hasn't shied for expressing his hopes of staying in San Diego, he's also eager to get the pay day he has coming. Weddle's value to the Chargers is one thing; it's not clear if Weddle's values himself at a higher level.

And know there is a gaping hole at inside linebacker, with both starters, Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett, being free agents.

It's believed of the two, the Chargers value Burnett more. His game continues to ascend as this one-time, part-time player on the Cowboys is coming off the best season of his career.

Cooper has been a tackling machine for the Chargers in the past, but the wear is starting to show on his tires. A balky knee, among other things, restricted his play this year and could hamper him in the future.

And how will the future treat head coach Norv Turner?

The Chargers are keen about professing that Turner is the winningest coach in Chargers history. And while his 41-23 record backs that up, he did take over a 14-2 team, one that was seemingly poised on going deep into the playoffs on an annual basis.

Instead, despite Turner's regular-season success, the arrow is pointing down in regard to the playoffs. In his first year, 2007, the Chargers won two playoff games before losing in the AFC Championship Game. The following years brought one playoff win, no playoff wins and then a squad that didn't even make the playoffs.

While Turner's stint with the Chargers has been solid, that's not the case with his showing in the postseason. Turner, it would seem, needs a season which doesn't end so early in the playoff tournament -- if the Chargers make it this year.

"I really want to thank the fans for their patience throughout this process. It has been a very difficult period for all of us," Spanos said.

Center Nick Hardwick is eager to turn in his player's rep hat for a Chargers helmet.

"I'm just happy that we got this thing done and found a compromise that works for both sides and ensures labor stability for years to come," he said. "More than anything, I'm excited to get back to work."


QB Philip Rivers
Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Rivers spearheaded workouts

-- Kudos to Philip Rivers for organizing the team workouts during the lockout. Rivers said about 20 players participated for roughly five weeks, trying to stay as close to football shape as possible. Rivers, the team's leader and the son of a high-school coach, easily morphed into a coaching role.

-- Former Chargers defensive end Burt Grossman was named the NFL's Teacher of the Year. Grossman instructs and mentors at-risk children at Hoover High School in San Diego. Grossman's calming influence is a bit ironic as he once graced the Sports Illustrated cover with the title "Loud Mouth".

-- Chargers president Dean Spanos had an increased voice in the labor negotiations and could be a bigger player among the NFL ownership team moving forward. It seems Spanos is no longer reluctant to become more involved in league-wide issues.

"I couldn't be happier to put this behind us and get back to football," he said. "I can't wait for the football season start."

-- Chargers owner Alex Spanos no longer is seeking to sell part, or all, of his 36 percent of the team for tax reasons. Some speculated the AEG group in L.A. would purchase the share to help facilitate a potential move north. But Spanos' portion, according to team officials, is no longer in play. The same can't be said for the Chargers and L.A. -- if a stadium gets built. The Chargers are seeking a venue to replace Qualcomm Stadium, with their focus locally on downtown San Diego, next door to Petco Park. The Chargers have committed to San Diego only through the upcoming season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This new agreement is fair for both sides. Neither side got everything they wanted. It will give us labor peace for 10 years and helps secure the long-term future of the game. It will allow pro football to be even better, safer and more competitive, and to grow and prosper into the future. Bottom line, it's good for the game and the fans who love it so much." -- Chargers president Dean Spanos on the new labor agreement.



The big focus will be on the wide receivers, safety and inside linebackers as the Chargers weed out which players skedaddle and which ones remain.

But there are other positions which need to be addressed.

One interesting Charger free agent is running back Darren Sproles. The Chargers love his versatility and quickness in catching the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks. But he has cost the team some $14 million the last two years as a franchise player and the Chargers are in no mood to give him another rich deal. He could be gone.

While backup quarterbacks seldom get much love, the Chargers could go a long way in trying to convince Billy Volek to stick around for one more season.

If Rivers goes down, the Chargers are confident in Volek's ability win as a starter. He's done just that, in the regular and postseason, giving the Chargers a luxury few teams enjoy. Really, this decision will likely hinge on if Volek wants to get a shot at a starting role or is content in holding the clipboard -- if Rivers stays healthy -- in San Diego, with a good chance of reaching the playoffs. Go in depth here with positions the team will target and what specific players that might pursue.

The team will officially sign safety Bob Sanders to a one-year deal. The Chargers are hopeful Sanders, the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year, has something left in the tank. He has been slowed by injuries and played in but nine games the past three seasons.

If the Chargers decide to let Eric Weddle go, they'll do so by partially banking on Sanders to stay fit.

There's been some chatter the team could make a run at Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. But with Vincent Jackson returning -- and if they retain Malcom Floyd -- the Chargers will likely not be in the market for a receiver of Smith's stature. Now, if Floyd doesn't stick, that could change the Chargers' interest level. Although, Smith's personality might not be to general manager A.J. Smith's liking, and they do have Patrick Crayton who could move from the No. 3 to No. 2 spot.

Another intriguing free agent is defensive end Jacques Cesaire.

If first-round pick Corey Liuget had enjoyed a normal offseason of learning the system and getting acclimated to the NFL, maybe the Chargers wouldn't feel an urgency to retain Cesaire.

But Cesaire started 16 games last year and is a great clubhouse guy. And he's already said he will do everything in his power to make Liuget into a top-notch player. The Chargers would do well to keep Cesaire, as there would be no better role model for Liuget and Cesaire is still a productive player.

The Chargers could also be on the prowl for another pass-rusher and depth along the offensive line.


--WR Vincent Jackson.



--LB Antwan Barnes showed a burst in getting to quarterbacks last year which impressed the Chargers. Look for him to stay around.

--LB Kevin Burnett is coming off a career-best year and is thought of higher by the team than Stephen Cooper. He should remain with team.

--S Tyrone Carter probably won't be returning; could change if Eric Weddle flees.

--DE Jacques Cesaire started each game last year, but is expected to step aside for first-round pick Corey Liuget. He could return in backup role.

--LB Stephen Cooper is likely headed elsewhere as durability has become an issue and the team is hoping second-year pro Donald Butler contributes.

--LS James Dearth got hurt in one of his first practices and never saw the field; won't be back.

--WR Malcom Floyd isn't quite a No. 1 receiver, but he is not far off. If another team pays him like one, he could exit.

--CB Dante Hughes should return after seeing action in 12 games, which included a start.

--DL Travis Johnson could be fighting for a roster spot in camp; if he makes it that far.

--LB Brandon Moore will likely be pushed aside with other linebackers returning to health.

--OL Scott Mruczkowski has been a key backup and shouldn't cost much. He'll likely stay.

--WR Legedu Naanee won't be brought back. He never showed the talent the Chargers had hoped for; offseason alcohol arrest doomed his chances.

--LS Ryan Neill isn't in the team's plans with David Binn coming back; Neill played in two games.

--S Paul Oliver will be back, but at the Chargers' price. He doesn't have much leverage of going elsewhere with sparse playing time.

--LB Brandon Siler is solid in the short-yardage situations and on special teams. The uncertainty with Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper could allow him to stay.

--RB Darren Sproles made a boatload of money the past two years, and while productive, he might be too rich for the Chargers. Could return, but only under the Chargers' terms.

--QB Billy Volek has dwindling time left in his career if he wants to become a starter. If he's comfortable as a backup, he stays put.

--WR Kelley Washington will likely get a long look at camp; his chances of staying improve if Malcom Floyd flees.

--S Pat Watkins isn't expected to be courted by the Chargers.

--FS Eric Weddle wants his pay day, and that could mean he gets it somewhere else. Weddle is solid, but far from a game-changer; he's yet to record one forced fumble.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--LB Darry Beckwith (not tendered as ERFA).

--FB Billy Latsko (not tendered as ERFA).


--LB Antwan Applewhite (tendered at $1.8M with second-round pick as compensation) is still in the Chargers' plans, but he has to make up for some lost time because of injuries; Chargers aren't likely to chase away pass-rushers.

--RB Mike Tolbert (tendered at $1.8M with second-round pick as compensation) had a breakout year as the featured back; many thought it would be rookie Ryan Mathews. Tolbert's bruising style gives the Chargers the toughness they seek.


--RB Curtis Brinkley will be hard-pressed to make the team, especially with the team taking a running back in the draft.

--OL Brandyn Dombrowski was a life-saver last year when Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill reported late. He stays as a critical swing man for depth along the line.


--LB James Holt: Potential ERFA; terms unknown.

--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo: Potential ERFA; terms unknown.


--S Bob Sanders: FA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown. PLAYERS LOST: None.

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