Buried at the Bottom

"So the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have deactivated wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for the remainder of the season, meaning he doesn't have to play in the games but he still gets paid," said Jay Leno during the monologue of his November 20th show. This was the set-up; the punch-line was still to come. "So it's kind of like he's playing for the San Diego Chargers."

And so the transformation is complete, and the San Diego Chargers have officially become the laughingstock of the National Football League. They are the symbolic face of ineptitude and underachievement. They are a team fighting like the first pick in the upcoming draft is the only thing worth fighting for. They are pathetic.

Players keep repeating that – it seems many of their teammates have mailed in the remainder of the season. Blaming each other may be the only thing they can do right at the moment. Many players have mentally checked out of this current campaign, so the blame may be valid. Players like Damion McIntosh, Jamal Williams and Ben Leber have all regressed noticeably from last season's forms, and it wasn't as if these guys were all-world to begin with.

Solomon Page is apparently milking that ankle sprain for all it's worth as he prepares to be launched into the free agent market in a matter of months. Tim Dwight has proven yet again to be too slight of stature to endure a sixteen game beating. And Reche Caldwell has returned from injury only to remind people why it was so insignificant he was ever hurt to begin with.

And as for Drew Brees? He gets punished for the extreme lack of production for all of those around him. This may be the most unfortunate fact about this season, seeing as Brees is one of only a fistful of players with enough talent to build a team around who are currently on this roster devoid of talent.

However, this team does have superstars. There are only three of them, but they are there if one looks hard enough. LaDainian Tomlinson, David Boston, and Donnie Edwards are all undisputable superstars. Tomlinson has incredible vision and cutback ability which make him an elite runner. Boston has superhuman size, speed and strength. And Edwards is a sure tackler with terrific speed and ball skills.

The problem is that the drop off in talent after the elite three is extraordinarily precipitous in Grand-Canyon-like proportions. Yet there are some gems among the remaining roster-fillers. Players like Drew Brees, Toniu Fonoti and Drayton Florence are all guys who are helping little if at all at the moment, but all three of them have the potential to make that jump to elite status someday soon.

The real problem is players like Marcellus Wiley, Jason Fisk and Kwame Lassiter. These are players who are earning veteran pay (and in Wiley's case superstar pay) to produce big plays, and instead have reeled off nothing but yawn-inducing performances.

To be successful this team needs more players that come cheap and play big and less players that cause more havoc on the salary cap than they do on the gridiron. The team needs more players like DeQuincy Scott, Jason Ball and Eric Parker. If the team can find cheap talent like this, and rid itself of overpaid under-producers, then maybe it can afford to bring in more superstar talent to complete the Chargers measly sum of three.

This team could use an infusion of talent at just about every spot on the depth chart. Only the secondary appears to have sufficient talent to remain entirely intact as a unit heading into the 2004 season. And even they are producing the NFL's 29th ranked pass defense. They, at least, have an excuse. They are all learning on the job and have no pass rush helping them out.

Brees too has an excuse in that he was given no secondary wide receiver, no viable tight end, no significant talent on his offensive line, and no chance to redeem himself for the mistakes his lackluster supporting cast forced him into making.

But what about the defensive line, the linebackers, the offensive line, and the wide receivers not wearing No. 89? What is their excuse for their season long streak of shortcomings and failures?

I guess it is just that they are San Diego Chargers.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at ReneesGaydo@yahoo.com

SD Super Chargers Top Stories