Lombardo's Chargers free agent Buzz

San Diego Chargers A.J. Smith has never been one to make a big splash during free agency, preferring instead to target middle-tier players capable of making an upper-tier impact.

This year's target could be Willie Offord, a safety formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.

Offord (6 foot 1, 216 lbs.) was a third-round pick of the Vikings in 2002. He spent four seasons in Minnesota, totaling 58 tackles, two interceptions and four pass break-ups while splitting time between strong and free safety.

"Football is football to me," Offord said. "I'll play wherever they ask me to play."

In his final two seasons with the Vikings, Offord played under Ted Cottrell, the Chargers' defensive coordinator who was serving in the same capacity in Minnesota at the time.

The two became very close during their time together, according to Offord's agent, David Canter.

Offord was viewed as an ascending player in Minnesota until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee three weeks into the 2005 season. He missed the remainder of the year due to the injury.

He signed an incentive-laden extension with the Vikings on March 4, 2006 but was released before the season began. He has been out of football since, working out and strengthening his knee.

Offord would fit nicely in San Diego's defense, where he would compete with Bhawoh Jue for the starting strong safety position. Should he win the starting job, he would bring a physical presence to the secondary as well as the speed to help the team improve in coverage.

Were he to end up as a reserve, he would provide terrific depth while contributing on special teams. He was a special teams captain in Minnesota during the 2003-2005 campaigns.

"Special teams has always been on the radar," Offord said. "Even if I was a starter, I would have still tried to play three special teams because I like special teams."

Canter is attempting to contact Cottrell in order to set up a workout for his client. If Offord can get to San Diego and display the tantalizing ability he showcased in Minnesota, the safety-hungry Chargers may not be able to pass on him.

Such a signing would make sense for the Chargers, as the team does not want to throw too much money at the position after giving big contracts to Jue in 2005 and Marlon McCree in 2006. Because Offord was out of football last season, his contract would be an affordable one.

Signing Offord is a low-risk, high-reward proposition. Given his ample upside and the team's considerable need at the position, the team may be inclined to take a chance on him.


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