"The Plan:" Free Agency

Free agency, easily, is one of the biggest gambles in pro football. It seems that most players signed in March by the San Diego Chargers are often let go two years later in June. There are exceptions, and some free agents do set the world on fire, but that doesn't happen very often. Despite paying the price now, the Raiders went to the Super bowl with a team built mostly through free agency. Yet, teams like the Steelers are gutted every year but still contend for the Super Bowl most years.

Every NFL team has a philosophy when it comes to free agency. Some teams build on one side of the ball through free agency and then concentrate on draft to fill in the remaining gaps. Some GM's sign the hottest names they can find, while others stick to the "blue collar" players. So what exactly is the Chargers' plan towards free agency?

After this latest round of free agency, Charger fans certainly have a right to know what is going on, and "we have a plan" does not suffice. It was not but three years ago, the Chargers were bringing in some of the hottest young names in football. In his first year, Butler signed hot prospects such as Marcellus Wiley, Ryan McNeil, Doug Flutie, Sam Rogers, and Wade Richey. The next year he nabbed Cory Raymer, Donnie Edwards, and Stephen Alexander.

Each one of these players addressed a position of need for the bolts. The Chargers were coming off arguably the worst time in its franchise history, the Leaf era. We need a quarterback and got one. We needed a rush end and got it as well. We needed a couple of cover corners and got them too. We had not played a game yet, but were being dubbed as the team "most likely to improve" that year. The free agents were holding the reins as the young draftees were waiting their turn. It was a glorious time for much deprived Charger fans.

The Chargers then decided to go with "the youth movement". I was skeptical, to say the least, when we let Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau go. Despite the reports, I believed both players still had some good football left in them. But, I was also excited when we signed David Boston and Lorenzo Neal. Did anyone see that picture floating around of Boston's arms? His arms are bigger than most people's legs. I had visions of a true freak-a-zoid running over the Raider faithful as he led us back to the promise land.

Well, good ole Murphy came back, and I am not talking about Jack Murphy. Maybe that is why the Chargers decided to change the name of their stadium; they were tired of Murphy's Law associating itself with their organization.

Each one of these players (aside from Flutie and Edwards) was a bust. Wiley cared more about his idiotic dance than playing football. Seriously, did anyone ever tell him how stupid he looked? I figured a boy with an Ivy League education would have more sense. Raymer and Alexander played a total of five minutes, injuring muscles every other week I never knew existed. And Boston proved every skeptic right within three weeks of the season by being suspend his fourth game in. Way to go, David!

So, like our defensive scheme, our free agency plan has changed. We are no longer pursing the Boston's or Wiley's of the world. But, the extreme position the Chargers are taking is puzzling. I understand avoiding the problem children around the NFL. But, not every top named free agent is a butthead.

Marty and AJ said our positions of need "would be addressed in the off –season". They also say they are shooting "for the playoffs". So what do they do? They release just about every high dollar player we have. Then, instead of going after free agents such as Todd Wade, Jeff Garcia, Ted Washington, etc, we sign players like Steve Foley, Mike Goff, Leander Jordan, and Randall Godfrey. Do not get me wrong, I want all these players to succeed and I consider them apart of the Charger family now. But, they are hardly the type of players that give me confidence that we will be a playoff team next year. If they prove me wrong, I will be the first to admit it. But, unfortunately, I believe most Charger fans have of the same opinion as I do.

Where is the consistency? Even after free agency, our holes are bigger than ever. We sign the bargain type guys and did not heavily pursue some of the bigger names. Sure, we might be paying a little more than we want for players such as John Tait, Damien Woody, or Todd Wade, but neither of these players suffer from "white-line fever", if you catch my drift. And all are very solid NFL players. They will, no doubt, be an attribute for the teams they signed with. Big names aside, the Chargers even avoid the "Best of the Rest" category other than maybe Goff and Godfrey.

In light of us changing our entire defensive scheme; publicly acknowledging we need another quarterback; dropping five offensive linemen who started for us at one time last season; and trading our biggest offensive threat outside of LT; one would think we would have brought in bigger names than we did, and more of them. This is a philosophy that is not consistent with the first three years of the Butler/Smith reign.

Now, I know some of you are saying "the salary cap". Winning teams work around the salary cap. The Raiders have been doing it for years, as well as the Dolphins, the Eagles, the Colts, the Broncos, the Chiefs, and debatably the Redskins. There are other success stories on various levels out there as well, but I do believe the Chargers are the only 4-12 team that has LITTLE OR NO room against the cap. Was not the salary cap meant to create parody?

Are there any more questions? Yes, sir, you in the back. "The Chargers are restructuring their free agent philosophy similar to the Patriots," you say. That's an interesting point. Yes, the terms "chemistry" and "blue collar" have nice rings to them. There is one thing that losing franchises are absent of that the Patriots are blessed with. No, it is not cold weather. The Patriots have the best player personnel people in the NFL. The myth that the Patriots do not spend money is false. They are not afraid to sign big name free agents. What they do, though, better than anyone else in the NFL is their homework. I believe in the "Patriot Way" about as much as I believe I am going to marry a Charger girl. Sure, it could happen, but come on! The Patriot system is a ficsod, a true blue river in the Mojave. If it was truly the right way, then everyone would be doing it. The myth of "Patriot Way" gives loosing organizations who do not sign big name free agents something to hope for. If the Patriots and Chargers were to swap personnel, we would be calling it the "Charger Way".

So where does this information leave us? Does the Charger organization truly have "a plan"? Or, are they making it up as they go along? We can not answer that question quite yet. We still have to analyze this year's and past year's drafts under the Butler/Smith reign. From looking at the changes, midstream, in the system, and the new "Patriot Way" approach to free agency, I have a feeling the administration is making decisions out of desperation rather than having a bigger picture in mind. But, let us see how we do in the upcoming draft before drawing any more conclusions. Be sure to tune in next week boys and girls; same Charger time; same Charger channel.

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