State of the Chargers address

With the franchise tagging of Drew Brees, the San Diego Chargers have set their priorities for the coming year. While the Brees topic remains hot and unsettled, free agency and the draft loom as the next orders of business.

A.J. Smith declared several players would go into unrestricted free agency when March 2 rolls around.

Zeke Moreno, Carlos Polk, Jerry Wilson, Eric Downing, Leon Johnson, Bobby Shaw and Bob Hallen will test the open market.

Smith did leave some room open regarding their future as members of the Chargers but allowing them to move forward without going after them is a sign that they will seek upgrades to the roster.

The Chargers general manager would not talk about contracts regarding any specific restricted and exclusive rights player but did mention, "we are pretty active on a number of fronts and we are trying to keep continuity."

Antonio Gates is the highest priority the team has before March 2nd and the start of free agency.

The Bolts don't want to simply lock up Gates for one year. They are working on a multi-year deal with their tight end. Although Gates is just an exclusive right free agent, the Chargers would like to wrap him up for several years. They have the cap room to absorb a bigger hit this season and don't want his contract lingering over their heads from year to year.

Talks will heat up this week in regards to Gates now that he and the team have returned from Hawaii.

Stephen Cooper is an exclusive rights free agent and agent Buddy Baker said it is a little bit early to know whether his client would be in line for a deal that spans more than a year at this time.

"We have talked a little bit," Baker said in regards to contract talks with Cooper. He expected something to get done soon and continuing talks on some sort of extension to the deal.

Cooper is the primary backup at two positions for the Chargers and has stepped up whenever asked. His value is high right now with the Bolts allowing Zeke Moreno and Carlos Polk to leave via free agency.

When March 2 comes, the Chargers are expecting to sign a couple of players on the free agency front. Smith was not sure how aggressive they would be and his shrewd decisions of a year ago indicate he is looking for players who were lost on depth charts and have promise to develop into contributors.

One area Smith did say is a priority for the team is a return man. They have tried several players over the past few years and have been unsuccessful in getting a gamebreaker.

"We will enter the market," Smith said. "Presently we are just window shopping. We are targeting a return guy whether through the draft of the free agency market. I would love very much to get a terrific return guy. We are always looking to upgrade. Line em up three deep."

The Chargers targeted a number of receivers at the Senior Bowl who have return experience. If they don't go the free agency route, look for them to add a dynamic return guy through the draft that can double as a receiver.

When signing a player on the free agent market, they will also ensure that player comes without a troubled past. The team is very high on bringing in high quality people to mesh with the current roster.

"We really like the makeup of our team," Smith said. "The character - Championship caliber guys."

The Chargers have completed their post-Senior Bowl analysis and will reconvene roughly two weeks before the NFL Draft in April to set their board. The area scouts came back to Murphy Canyon to give their advice before heading out again. The entire staff will head to Indianapolis for the NFL Combines.

"We are in the final stages of our preliminary thought," Smith said in regards to the draft. "We have preliminary thoughts on players but that is subject to change. We are going to hit (the combines) hard."

"I am very exciting about having two number one picks."


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