Who Will It Be?

If you could have one player in free agency, who would it be? David Boston perhaps, provided he does not get tagged as a franchise player? Peerless Price and the Buffalo connection? Dexter Jackson who is the reigning Super Bowl MVP? Now imagine there is a cap on your spending, you are tight against it, and the list suddenly dwindles down to the bargain rack.

The San Diego Chargers are in this situation, mainly from some unwise investments that have taken up far too much cap space. It is kind of ironic considering they have a lot of young talent. They could have been big players in the free agent market, but now face free agency with various needs, and will look to be creative in filling those needs.

Free agency has its pitfalls. Chargers history is lined with free agents who have been one-year wonders, only to be released before their contract ran out. The result is generally dead money, or money that cannot be spent as a released player often still counts against the cap.

In 2001, DeRon Jenkins was let go on the same day as Ryan Leaf, Kevin Gogan, Daryll Lewis and Robert Chancey. Not all of these guys were stars but they all got a piece of the pie. Lewis started 7 games at corner, Jenkins proved to be a bust after signing a three-year $9.6 million contract which included a $3 million signing bonus. He lasted all of one year.

That same year, in fact, that same week when they made all these cuts, they signed three players to six-year deals, and another to a five-year deal. Now most people at this point are thinking the Chargers must have got superstars. What teams signs players to such long-term deals unless they are top-notch players, right?

Doug Flutie, who has recently restructured, was the last to sign, but got six years. Did we mention he is 40 this year in what will be year three of the contract?

Marcellus Wiley signed for six years, which even today seems a wise investment until you look at the salary numbers that continue to escalate. Wiley can be worth that much if he remains healthy and the money spent on him is not in question as he was the top pass rusher on the market.

Alex Molden then signed on for six years. This for a former first round pick of the Saints who never lived up to his potential. Ryan McNeil was also signed, and got a five-year deal. This for a corner who spent 1998-2000 with three different teams and could have been gotten much cheaper on the market. He turned in a solid 2001 season, but now is being considered as a candidate to move to a safety spot. A year later they tabbed their own cornerback, Quentin Jammer, with their first round pick. McNeil and Molden remain potential cut candidates this year.

Ed Ellis and Al Fontenot even got three-year deals that year. Fontenot has since been released and Ellis, well no one is enamored with his play.

Fast forward to the 2002 offseason. First, Tim Dwight was resigned to a five-season deal. Committing that much to an unproven talent who has yet to fully grasp the No. 2 receiver role will certainly hinder the Bolts this year.

Center Cory Raymer was signed for five years. While Raymer is a solid center he has had a history of injuries. Five seasons for a player with such concerns is a bit excessive. Ditto for Stephan Alexander who also nabbed a deal for five years after a year that saw him battle injuries. Generally an injury history, especially in a free agency year, will hurt a player in the wallet. Of course these players are coming to San Diego when the money they offer is so much more than anyone else. Jason Fisk also got a five year deal on the same day Raymer signed.

It just seems five and six year deals are en vogue for the Chargers. Yet a year or two into these contracts questions arise to the viability of the player, and whether he will make it through the entire deal. The price is wasted cap space when a player is released.

So how do the Chargers fill the holes they have?

The answer is simple, spend wisely, be frugal… the future depends on it.

Denis Savage can be reached at: Denis Savage

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