If I were a carpenter...

A.J. Smith is in championship mode. He signed 10-year vets Derek Smith, L.J. Shelton and Jeremy Newberry to provide insurance on the road to the Big Game. However, those Band-Aid players will only help so much. The Bolts have the ability to land a franchise player who could push the team over the top. Team expert Michael Lombardo explains how.

After two grueling games against the Tennessee Titans, the Chargers know better than anybody how much DT Albert Haynesworth can dominate in the trenches. He consistently demands and defeats double-teams, creating opportunities for his fellow defenders and wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.

The numbers speak for Haynesworth's uncanny ability to dominate. In the 13 games he played last season, the Titans allowed less than 77 rushing yards per game and went 10-3. In the three games Haynesworth missed, the Titans allowed 160 rushing yards per game and were winless.

Haynesworth's breakout performance during his contract year prompted the Titans to slap him with the franchise tag, meaning any team that signs him to an offer sheet would have to give the Titans two first-round picks if they decline to match. It's a steep price to pay but may be worth it for a 26-year-old lineman who could complement and later replace All Pro Jamal Williams.

If the Chargers were to proceed with such a move, the first step would be acquiring an additional first-round pick in the 2009 draft. Preferably, the team could swing a deal with a team expected to pick at the bottom of round one.


DT Albert Haynesworth
Mark Humphrey/AP

One possibility would be trading WR Vincent Jackson and LB Stephen Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-rounder. This would allow the Cowboys to get younger at receiver while ensuring that over-the-hill Zach Thomas never has to start a game. The Chargers have an abundance of depth at receiver and linebacker and could replace Jackson and Cooper with Buster Davis and Derek Smith, respectively.

The next step would be anteing up with a big offer for Haynesworth, one the Titans couldn't match. The Chargers have the money to do exactly that, as the team is already $15 million under the cap and would save even more money by moving Jackson and Cooper.

The Titans, a team that has run hot and cold on Haynesworth since drafting him in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft, would be hard-pressed to match a seven-year, $50 million deal similar to the one signed by Oakland Raiders lineman Tommy Kelly earlier this offseason.

In San Diego, Haynesworth could play alongside Williams on some running downs while replacing him in obvious passing situations. Adding Haynesworth to a mix that includes Williams, Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky would give San Diego the League's best four-man rotation in a 3-4 scheme, and it wouldn't be close.

The Chargers would have to give up a lot to reel in Haynesworth, including – in this scenario – two starters, a first-round pick and financial flexibility.

However, the Chargers have the talent in place to replace Jackson and Cooper with minimal drop-off. It would be tough to part with a first-rounder, especially with next year's second-rounder already in the hands of the New England Patriots, but San Diego may very well spend its top pick on a defensive lineman next year if it doesn't land a young stud before then.

As for the financial flexibility? The Chargers may luck out due to the current chaos surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Unless a new deal is struck, the Chargers will have the benefit of an uncapped year and two transition tags to help retain their own players. Additionally, several core players may hit the open market a year later than expected without a new CBA in place.

Could this perfect storm of circumstance prod A.J. Smith to execute such a bold maneuver? It's unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, and Haynesworth has more payoff potential than any other defender in the league.

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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


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