Chargers Damned Either Way

Should he stay -- at No. 1 -- or go -- down the draft board? Yet, if they move down they will likely miss out on Eli Manning, a potential franchise quarterback and if they stay, they miss out on extra talent -- a must for a team with so many needs.<br><br> That's the dilemma facing Chargers general manager A.J. Smith as one of the most critical drafts in franchise history draws closer. There's little doubt the Chargers have just about replaced the Cincinnati Bengals as the dregs of the NFL.

While the Bengals' non-playoff streak is a tad more depressing (13 to 8), it's apparent the Bengals are on the upswing under new coach Marvin Lewis and finishing with an 8-8 mark last year.

The Chargers?

They were every bit as bad as their 4-12 record indicates, and the NFL' tiebreakers agreed in awarding them the top pick in the April draft. Now what should the Chargers do? Do they stay put at No. 1 and choose between, say, Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning, Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery or Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald?

Or do they slide down to snag additional picks to plug the numerous holes on this woeful squad, and maybe settle for North Carolina quarterback Philip Rivers or Miami of Ohio signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger?

It's too early to say, Smith said. But what can be said is that Smith, who's nearing the first anniversary of being an NFL general manager, will prepare for both.

"We're planning for the draft in two ways," he said. "We will game-plan it to stay right there (at No. 1) and move right across with what we want to do. "The second part will be the unknown. That's when the phone calls start coming, It's too early now, but we'll get calls about players and draft picks, and we'll go back and forth with all that stuff starting about 10 days before the draft."

Smith has been going back and forth a lot lately. He just got done crisscrossing the nation while trying out Rivers, Roethlisberger and Manning. "It was extensive, no doubt about it," Smith said. "It went well, and we got to spend some time with all of them. And they are all fine young men, no question about it."

Now the big question begs to be answered. Which, if any, will land with the Chargers?

Notes: Twenty-two area high school juniors will be selected as "Chargers Champions" this school year based on their leadership, service and citizenship.  The program, created by Chargers owner ALEX SPANOS and President/CEO DEAN SPANOS, endows a $7,000 scholarship and laptop computer to each student and gives $2,000 grants to 12 select teachers/coaches to use in their classrooms.  The teachers and coaches are chosen for their innovation and creativity……The Chargers have organized a "Listening Tour" to hear public feedback on the team's concept to redevelop the Qualcomm Stadium site.  "We are going community by community to hear from as many people as possible and to get an understanding of the issues important to the people of San Diego," says Dean Spanos. 

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