Contract Killers

While the San Diego Chargers hope to take care of business on the field this Sunday, general manager A.J. Smith now has his own business to tend to as well. Recently, Jets' defensive end Shaun Ellis, Bears' defensive end Alex Brown and Falcons' tight end Alge Crumpler received contract extensions. Smith is well aware that the main reason the Chargers have outplayed expectations this season is because many players have outplayed their contracts.

With that in mind, it is time to take a look at the top five underpaid Chargers players, and decide who deserves and extension and who still has more to prove.

Candidate One: Tight End Antonio Gates
This is an obvious one. Gates is still working under the minimum wage contract he was trapped into by his un-drafted status. However, this season he has proven to be the team's top threat in the passing game. If Brees starts again next year, then the chemistry these two players share will still be there. If Rivers starts, then he will need a security blanket like Gates to help with his transition to the pro game. Either way, this offense relies on Gates and he knows it. He'll get his money soon, and Alge Crumpler's new contract should set-up the framework nicely.

"I am mentioned with Pro Bowlers and I haven't been to one Pro Bowl yet," he said. "It's overwhelming at times to hear all these special things. It is mind boggling. At the same time I have fun. Regardless of the records and comparisons, I am trying to build an identity for Antonio Gates."

And pad his wallet.

Candidate Two: Wide Receiver Keenan McCardell
After holding out for more money all the way up until the trade deadline, McCardell was traded to the Chargers only after agreeing to play out his original contract. He likely agreed to that only because it was his best option financially. Now that his arrival has helped move the Chargers closer to the league's elite status, his best option financially might now be to ask for more money once again. Reche Caldwell will be back next season, however, and in only six games this year recorded 355 total yards and three touchdowns. In doing so, Caldwell proved he can be a more than capable number two receiver, and in his place Eric Parker's solid play (475 total yards, two touchdowns) has proven that he is a more than capable number three. No Chargers receiver, not even McCardell, has proven to be a legitimate number one receiver. Therefore, the team might be content to draft a future number one receiver (such as former USC superstar Mike Williams) with one of their first round picks this year, and allow him to take on the title of McCardell's heir apparent. Then, when McCardell's contract is up, the young guns will be ready to carry the load.

Candidate Three: Right Tackle Shane Olivea
Olivea has been a bargain, playing under the rookie contract he garnered as a seventh round selection. He has been a starter since week one on an offensive line that has helped Drew Brees resurrect his career, and helped both LaDainian Tomlinson and Jesse Chatman put up big numbers with the ground game. He still has two years left on his contract, and more importantly, he has talent behind him. While continuity is important on an offensive line, it is arguable whether the talent level would drop should Courtney Van Buren or Leander Jordan take over the position next season. In fact, both are young players being groomed by line coach Hudson Houck, so that may just happen anyway. Either way, Olivea still has more to prove before he lands his next deal.

Candidate Four: Defensive End DeQuincy Scott
Scott led the Chargers in sacks last season with 6.5, and possesses more natural pass rushing ability than any defensive lineman on the team. He has, however, been slowed by injuries this season, and saw Jacques Cesaire climb past him on the depth chart when Adrian Dingle was hurt. The biggest question is whether he is a fit for the 3-4 scheme the Chargers employ. Still, the Chargers' main weakness remains their pass defense, so keeping Scott and finding ways to free him up more often should be a top priority. Expect Scott to land a deal, although not a blockbuster one.

Candidate Five: Running Back Jesse Chatman
Although it may not seem like it, this is Chatman's third season with the club, and so he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Working as Tomlinson's closer for much of the first half of the season, Chatman did the impossible by making people not miss LT when he was out. The Chargers offensive scheme has been successful because it deploys a balanced attack. Now that Tomlinson has shown he can be injured after all, supplying a proven and consistent back-up is a must. Chatman is a bigger runner than Tomlinson, but has the same kind of vision and power that are necessary to succeed in this offense. Chatman should be right in line behind Gates for a new contract, as not providing him one would be a monumental blunder.

"Nobody can replace LT but Jesse, given the opportunity, has done a pretty good job," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "Jesse has shown an ability to make plays. Jesse has great vision and has been very reliable managing the ball. We are fortunate we have a guy who steps into – nobody steps into both of LT's shoes – but at least one of them."

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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