If I were a carpenter...

The Chargers are currently negotiating extensions with three of their most vital players: Antonio Gates, Jamal Williams and Toniu Fonoti. Gates would be a restricted free agent next fall, while Williams and Fonoti are both in the last year of their contracts. As of now, no deal is imminent for any of the aforementioned players, and Chargers fans everywhere are upset about it.

A.J. Smith has a system in place in which he places a certain value on each player. If in negotiations any player asks for more than that amount, then they are allowed to walk at the end of their contract. It's just that simple.

Stalled negotiations have not been the only contractual black cloud hanging over the Chargers this offseason. Shawne Merriman is skipping all coaching sessions until his contract is signed, for fear of getting injured. His agent claims the Chargers could low ball Merriman in negotiations if he were to be hurt before he was under contract.

If he were at the coaching sessions, perhaps he would have met Adrian Dingle. After talking with Dingle, he could have learned that Dingle was hurt before signing his first contract, and the team negotiated with him in good faith. In fact, he liked his first contract so much that he came back and signed a second one.

So even though fans may not like the fact that Merriman is still in Maryland, or that Gates, Williams and Fonoti are fast approaching free agency, they need to realize that organizations like the Chargers need to make a stand. If not, they will be run into the ground by players and agents who will fight for every cent they can get.

Just look around the league. Terrell Owens is looking for a new deal one year into a seven-year contract that made him the third-highest paid receiver in the game. Sean Taylor is holding out for a new contract while only one year into his rookie deal, and this is following a year in which he embarrassed himself and his team with a drunken driving incident. If organizations do not make a stand, players like this will leave teams in salary cap purgatory for years to come.

While Chargers fans understandably want their favorite players locked up long-term, they need to be apathetic of the team's reservations about guaranteeing truckloads of money to these players. After all, each of them comes with their own question marks.

Gates was superb last season, but I am sure everyone would like to see him do it again just to be sure. At this time last year, Fonoti was nearing 400 lbs. and no-showing multiple mandatory team functions. Then there's Williams, who has always been dominant when on the field, but has spent considerable time off of it due to injury.

Also keep in mind that the team has replacements in place for at least two of these three players. Kris Dielman has spent the last two years being groomed to play guard for this team, and it appears as if he may be ready. Luis Castillo can play nose tackle as well as end, and may wind up there if Williams departs.

As for Gates, there is no one on the roster who could even come close to replacing him. However, he will only be a restricted free agent, so the team could match any offer he receives, and would do exactly that. There is the chance that Gates could hold out if he does not receive a new contract, but hopefully he saw how well that worked out for Jason Ball and Phillip Rivers last year and will decide otherwise.

As for the Merriman situation, let him sit at home. People say the Chargers need him to help their pathetic pass rush, but a second year in the 3-4 and the continued development of Shaun Phillips should help accomplish that as well. Merriman will show up when he wants to, and will wish he was there earlier when he does.

The team has a strict philosophy, and abiding by it has worked thus far. If not for their fiscal responsibility, they would not have been able to franchise Drew Brees. Also, without it the team would be cutting veterans instead of extending their deals.

A.J. Smith must stand by his guns and do what's best for the team, and all signs point to him doing exactly that. It brought the Chargers one division championship, and another appears to be on the horizon. As long as he doesn't overpay for the likes of LaMont Jordan, Courtney Brown or Sammy Knight, I like the team's chances for a repeat in the West.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net

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