Contracts due for three members of the core

San Diego is a team that prides itself on taking care of its own. Over the last 12 months, players such as Quentin Jammer, Nick Hardwick, Shane Olivea, Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm have all inked lucrative extensions. Those signings were a good start to keeping a winning team intact, so expect more to come shortly.

The player whose extension is of the utmost priority is Kris Dielman. Only months away from unrestricted free agency, the Chargers would loath to lose a player of Dielman's caliber. He is a powerful inline blocker who has gotten better with each passing season.

The Chargers also love Dielman's attitude. He is a blue-collar player who instills the line with an aggressive attitude. If the Chargers can lock him up with a long-term deal, the entire line will be under contract through 2008. If not, expect the team to slap him with either the franchise or transition tag. "Kris Dielman played as well as any offensive lineman we had had this year," Marty Schottenheimer said.

Another player primed for a new deal is Shaun Phillips. He is set for restricted free agency, but the Chargers would love to lock him up with a long-term deal. Phillips finished the 2006 season with 11.5 sacks in just 14 games.

One thing complicating this deal is the possible return of Steve Foley. Phillips will no doubt want to be paid like one of the game's best linebackers after the season he just enjoyed. However, the Chargers may be reluctant to pay him like a top starter with two double-digit sack threats (Foley and Shawne Merriman) already on the roster.

"The guy that reminds me of Derrick Thomas is Shaun Phillips," Schottenheimer said. "Their body types are similar and have that great first step that gives them an advantage."

A third player who could have an extension coming his way is Drayton Florence. Although he left a bitter taste in fans' mouth with his postseason gaffe (an inexplicable personal foul penalty), he actually had a fairly spectacular 2006 season. Although he finished with just three interceptions, he added a career-high 13 pass break-ups.

Next season, Florence will be pushed for his starting spot by Antonio Cromartie. Still, in today's pass-happy NFL every team needs at least three solid cornerbacks and Florence is inarguably a core member of the Chargers' top trio.

"I try to make something happen every time I get an interception," Florence said.

These three aren't the only Chargers in line for new deals. Given A.J. Smith's willingness to extend deals early in their lifespan, Igor Olshansky, Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo could each see his contract extended sometime this summer.

San Diego is the best team in the league at taking care of its own. One more offseason of rewarding from within may make it the best team in the league, period.

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