Signing rookies on time will change camp

Training camp is fast approaching, meaning the time for the Chargers to begin signing their rookie class is now. While that may be a mere matter of routine for most franchises, the Chargers have never been a role-model franchise when it comes to getting their rookies in to camp on time.

Since A.J. Smith relocated to San Diego prior to the 2001 season, four of the team's six first-round picks have held out as a result of dragging negotiations. The two players that signed in a timely fashion, Sammy Davis and Luis Castillo, were both picked at the bottom of the first round.

Getting this year's first-round selection, Antonio Cromartie, into camp on time is extraordinarily important. He started only one game in his college career and missed all last season with a knee injury. However, the team can ill afford to bring him along slowly, as they have little depth at cornerback and are desperate to improve a secondary which ranked No. 28 in the league last season, intercepting only seven passes.

If Cromartie can get in on time, he has a chance to challenge Drayton Florence for his spot in the starting lineup. If he is forced to miss time, he could put his ability to contribute by the season opener in jeopardy. Were that to happen, the team would be forced to use journeyman Raymond Walls in its nickel defense – hardly an ideal situation.

The Chargers have issues regarding the signing of the rest of their rookie class, too. They must decide if they want to sign players to traditional three-year contracts, or if they want to push for four-year pacts instead.

It has become a trend in recent seasons to sign rookies to four-year deals in order to keep them off the restricted free agent market. Agents are reluctant to sign such deals because it delays potential paydays for their clients, but the teams still hold most of the leverage in these situations. The Chargers have yet to follow that trend, but they need to at least consider doing so this year.

The team's rookie class made an incredible impact in 2005. Shawne Merriman was named to the Pro Bowl, Luis Castillo deserved to be right there with him, and Darren Sproles was explosive as a kick returner. This year's class has the potential to make an equally meaningful impact, but getting into camp on time is a crucial first step in that direction.

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