If I were a carpenter...

In the time between now and training camp, A.J. Smith and the Chargers are working to whittle down their list of players set to become free agents in the next two years. Team expert Michael Lombardo explains how the Chargers can alleviate some of the pending pressure by extending the contract of a player with three years left on his deal.

A.J. Smith has conceded that the Chargers won't be able to bring back all of their core free agents. Two players who fit that "core" description are defensive ends Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo, who are set to become free agents after the 2008 and 2009 seasons, respectively.

The Chargers are looking to extend the contracts of both players but have yet to seal either deal. In order to expedite the process, Smith should give the team increased leverage and crank up the pressure on both players' agents.

One easy solution is to extend the contract of Jacques Cesaire. The team inked Cesaire to a new five-year, $4.1 million contract prior to the 2006 season, meaning he has three years left on his current deal. However, Cesaire has certainly outplayed his contract since that time.

Cesaire started half of the team's games between 2006-2007, registering 72 tackles and 6.5 sacks in that span. Six of those starts came last season, with the Chargers winning all six of those games.

The versatile lineman from Southern Connecticut State has played in all 16 games each of the last four seasons. In his five-year career, he has 124 tackles, eight sacks and seven pass break-ups. Those statistics deserve more than his $605,520 salary from last season.

By extending the 27-year-old Cesaire, the Chargers gain more than stability on the defensive line. San Diego then has the ability to use that contract as leverage when dealing with the agents for Olshansky (Leigh Steinberg) and Castillo (Rick Smith).

The message from the Chargers to Steinberg and Smith goes something like this:
"We just extended the deal for one of our defensive ends and we've got money in the budget for one more between now and next year. We're willing to offer a contract in the five-year, $22 million range. As soon as one of you takes it, the other is left waiting for next year."
This should prompt one of the agents to sign the deal. Once one player signs, the Chargers can use his contract as a jumping-off point when resuming negotiations with the other player next off-season.

If this negotiating tactic fails, the Chargers have still given themselves long-term protection in case Olshansky or Castillo departs in free agency. And if the tactic succeeds, the Chargers wind up with palatable long-term accords with three key members of the defensive line.

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.

SD Super Chargers Top Stories