Putting V-Jack's Money to Good Use

Free agency did not begin auspiciously for the Chargers, who saw arguably their second-best player, Vincent Jackson, depart for the Buccaneers. Since then, A.J. Smith has used the money he saved via the Jackson no-deal to reel in three outside free agents and ensure his offensive line returns intact. Suddenly, the negative air in So Cal is dissipating.

The Chargers did not wait long to counter the doom-and-gloom feeling that infiltrated San Diego after Philip Rivers' favorite target signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Buccaneers. San Diego acquired Jackson's replacement later that day, adding former first-round pick Robert Meachem on a four-year, $25.9 million contract.

Meachem isn't on Jackson's level when it comes to game-changing ability. Jackson's elite size makes him more of a physical mismatch and his ability to rip balls away from defenders is uncanny. He has turned many would-be incompletions into catches, and just as importantly, many would-be interceptions into incompletions.

Nonetheless, San Diego is getting more bang for its buck with Meachem's deep speed and ability to attack every part of the field. Meachem, who has caught at least 40 passes in each of the last three seasons, figures to see even more action in an offense that doesn't distribute the wealth quite so evenly. He has already stated his goal is to crack the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career, which seems attainable with Rivers at the trigger.

WR Robert Meachem
Chris McGrath/Getty
The Jackson-for-Meachem downgrade saved San Diego enough money to purchase upgrades elsewhere. The biggest impact figures to come from Jarret Johnson, a physical 'backer from the Baltimore Ravens. A hard-nosed run stopper, Johnson thrives playing over tight ends and is adept at dropping into coverage.

Johnson's addition allows Antwan Barnes and Larry English to return to reserve roles and thrive as situational pass rushers. Along with former Pro Bowler Shaun Phillips and veteran Travis LaBoy, San Diego's rotation at outside linebacker suddenly becomes a strength instead of a weakness.

Also new to the team is FB Le'Ron McClain. A 260-lb. bulldozer, McClain will clear the way for Pro Bowler Ryan Mathews. McClain is also a power-running option, which will be key if Mike Tolbert and/or Jacob Hester leave as free agents.

McClain earned two Pro Bowl invites while playing for Cam Cameron's offense in Baltimore. Cameron, who ran San Diego's offense from 2002-2006, runs a system similar to that of Norv Turner.

Not all of San Diego's key signings involve outside imports. The team's two biggest deals came on the offensive line, where Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither signed three- and four-year pacts, respectively. That means the starting unit that propelled last season's 4-1 finish returns for another go-round.

While Jackson's departure stings, it seems it was necessary to facilitate the Bolts' promise to be more aggressive in free agency. So far, the team is delivering on that promise, and as Norv Turner said on Wednesday, "We're not finished yet."

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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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