Will the Chargers Bail on the Bondsman?

This offseason, A.J. Smith will face a dilemma he could have hardly anticipated a year ago: he has too many talented wide receivers. The Chargers' top six receivers all have at least two years remaining on their contracts and there won't be enough playing time for everybody. Will Smith be forced to trade one of his favorite players to recoup a draft pick?

The Chargers receiving corps rounded into shape with the midseason addition of Chris Chambers. He smoothly slid into the No. 1 receiver role, catching multiple passes in every game as a Charger. He really picked up his game up in the playoffs, averaging more than five catches and 90 yards per contest.

The addition of Chambers really opened up the offense by drawing attention away from other players. Chambers also made an impact in the locker room. One Chargers scout at the Senior Bowl credited Chambers for Vincent Jackson's breakthrough playoff performance.

"Chris really worked hard with Vincent and taught him how to get things done," the scout said.

Jackson is a solid No. 2 receiver who contributes a pass catcher and a run blocker. He was the Chargers' postseason MVP, averaging six catches and 100 yards per game while scoring touchdowns in wins over the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts.

Behind the starters is a pair of 2007 draft picks, first-round selection Buster Davis and fifth-rounder Legedu Naanee. Both saw increased playing time as the season progressed and Norv Turner is happy with their development.

The No. 5 receiver is Kassim Osgood. Osgood can slip no further than No. 5 on the depth chart because the Chargers need him active on game days to anchor the coverage units; nor can he rise above No. 5, as San Diego has other weapons more deserving of playing time on offense.

The unit is stacked with young talent, which raises a difficult question: what will A.J. Smith do with Eric Parker? Often an afterthought after missing last season with a fractured toe, Parker tallied at least 47 catches and 650 yards every year from 2004-06. He was Philip Rivers' go-to receiver on third downs in '06 and could regain that role next season.

Smith has two options for what to do with Parker this offseason. Option one is to trade him, perhaps to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are in need of a consistent receiver and Baltimore's new offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, is familiar with Parker from their time together in San Diego. Smith would likely accept a fourth-round pick for Parker, as San Diego only has one selection in the first four rounds (although it could net one more via a compensatory pick).

Option two is to keep Parker. A top-three of Chambers, Jackson and Parker could be a lethal complement to the All Pro tandem of LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. Also, Parker would bolster the team's pedestrian 39-percent conversion rating on third down.

Both options have their pros and cons. If the Chargers trade Parker, they open up playing time for younger players and gain a draft pick, but they lose a steady target in the passing game. If they keep him, they add another weapon to an already potent offense, but they knock Davis out of the regular rotation and Naanee off the active list.

So which path will A.J. Smith choose? All we know is that Smith is eager to bolster depth, unafraid to make trades, and unlikely to tip his hand anytime soon.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.



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