The Justice Files: Isle of Manhattan

The free agent signing period, football's answer to the "hot stove" league, is fully upon us and I'm still not over the loss to the Jets. Nonetheless, the 2005 San Diego Chargers are already starting to take shape.

Tim Dwight, whose health and subsequent performance never matched his salary, was cut. I always loved Dwight's spunk, but his release was a fiscal no-brainer, especially with growth of the receiving corps this season. The Organization tried to unsuccessfully fill Dwight's return duties by signing Allen Rossum. It now appears that the team will try to address that need through the draft.

Bhawoh Jue was lured away from Green Bay, which seemed to spell the end of Jerry Wilson's time in San Diego. However, he was inexplicably signed to a two-year extension. His end-zone interception (a result of Florence's deflection) against the Broncos notwithstanding, Wilson was seen as the weak link in the secondary this year. In other words, he's Rogers Beckett, 2004 edition.

Jue, on the other hand, is already being lauded for his experience defending Randy Moss twice a year. With his cotton candy hairdo jutting out from his helmet, I always viewed Moss as a doppelganger for the monster in films "Jeepers Creepers, 1 and 2." As talented as Moss is, all I can say about his arrival is DON'T FEAR THE CREEPER. The Traitors' hubris never ceases to amaze me. Every alleged malcontent will be accepted and nurtured by the mystique Silver & Black. What a crock.

Football is a game of attitude. Sometimes, the mindset and confidence of the players is what makes the difference. But in the case of Oakland, there is nothing behind that mystique. They are more mistake than mystique.

But one thing we all learned from the 2004 Chargers is that how a player thinks and feels when he steps out onto the field can have a massive effect on the outcome of the game. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the performance of Drew Brees. He played with a chip on his shoulder all season long, especially after the first Denver game. His comeback campaign sparked the team on both sides of the ball. I said all last year that if it came down to it, Brees would have to go before Philip Rivers. I must admit, however, that I'm having a real tough time imagining the Bolts without Brees.

After labeling him with the franchise tag, The Organization is said to be seeking two first-rounders for him. It seems unlikely that any club is enamored enough with Brees to make that trade. A.J. Smith, the NFL's newest Executive of the Year, may already know that. He probably has a contingency plan in place where Brees will start again this season and The Final Decision between him and Rivers will be one year from now. Or maybe he's not that calculated. He did resign Jerry Wilson, after all. But if Brees can lead the Bolts through a schedule fitting of a 12-4 team this season, he will be as solid a selection for a long-term deal as we could hope for. Now that Flutie has been released, maybe he can officially become the cheerleader for Brees that he was all last season.

Last time I spoke with you, I made no secret of my disappointment over how flat the Bolts looked in their playoff game in a decade. The Jets proved to be a gutty bunch and should have beaten the Steelers the following week. But the Bolts went 12-4 and were 6 1/2 point favorites due to their aggressive play all year. But The Murph didn't see any of that fire until it was too late.

However, I recently found solace in Ray Nitschke's autobiography, 'Mean On Sunday', which I read when I had "walking pneumonia" last month. It's amazing how prophetic some of the passages were:

"If I were coaching, one of the things I would emphasize would be the kicking game. I've seen too many games lost over the years for lack of good kickers. The fellow who boots the ball may not be on the field more than a couple of minutes all afternoon, but how his toe meets the ball can make the difference between winning and losing."

I'm in no way trying to single out Nate Keading, but that paragraph really spoke to me. When the Packers reached their first title game under Vince Lombardi (the only one he ever lost) and fell to the Eagles, the coach prepared them even more thoroughly for the challenges of going not-quite-all-the-way. Nitschke recalled:

"Even though we'd lost the playoff, we'd won the conference, and that made us winners, which was what he'd been saying he wanted us to be. But it just gave him one more thing to worry about. He said the other teams were all out there waiting to knock us off. And they might do it, too, he said because when players win "there's a tendency to get fatheaded." We weren't more than a few minutes into our first practice before it was plain the coach wasn't going to tolerate any fat, between the ears or elsewhere. He didn't ease up a bit. In fact, he said some of us might not be around long unless we got down to work.

"'No matter what a player did last year, if he can't do it this year he has to go'-that was how he put it".

Since free agency dismantled the old "superteams" (see Dallas and San Francisco), coaching has been more at a premium than ever. Marty Schottenheimer won Coach of the Year largely based on the Chargers' success versus everyone's fatal prognosis going into last season. But how responsible was Schottenheimer for those low expectations? I hope the playoff loss will remind him not put the shackles on down the stretch. I hope that Marty, along with Brees and Smith, continues to validate all the accolades he's collected. But it will be quite a challenge. As Lombardi put it, there's no room for "fatheadedness." The Bolts seem to be following New England's model of signing the indispensable players for the long-term and restocking at the other positions. I still don't understand the Jerry Wilson, however. Begin the thawing of Martin Bayless,


SD Super Chargers Top Stories