Chargers GM AJ Smith "Doesn't Like" Revamped, "Patriotized" AFC West
A near-complete domination of the AFC West, as well as a 54-26 regular season record over the past five years, hasn't been enough for Chargers GM A.J. Smith or his team to be exactly where he would want them.
The Super Bowl.
Despite San Diego's loaded roster that boasts future Hall of Famers (RB LaDainian Tomlinson), a franchise quarterback (Philip Rivers), a former Defensive Player of the Year (LB Shawne Merriman), and a myriad of All-Pros, their success has been limited to a few playoff wins and lording over a consistently weak division.
Smith isn't sure.
In fact, a cursory glance over a few of his comments regarding Kansas City and Denver's shift in philosophy over the off-season would seem to indicate the hard-nosed Smith is, well—quivering in his boots.
"I consider it a direct threat to us, and I don't like it," Smith said to reporters in a story published by the Boston Globe.
A push by the Chiefs and the Broncos to be the west's version of the dynasty-wielding New England Patriots has Smith's complete attention.
On his friend, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, Smith told the Globe that he believed he'd make Kansas City "a winner."
He also referenced Denver's head coach, Josh McDaniels, and the fact that "[McDaniels and Pioli] have something that I don't have: a world championship."
Smith's background, on the other hand, is being the longtime assistant of former Bills and Chargers GM John Butler, as well as working with, and being influenced by—in his own words—Marv Levy and Bill Polian.
Not too shabby. As members of the Bills, Smith, Butler, Levy and Polian helped preside over a team that made the Super Bowl four consecutive years... and won none of them.
Now, Smith's angst can be perceived as seeing his window of opportunity getting smaller.
Truth be told, he might not have that much to worry about—yet.
In Denver, there indeed arrived McDaniels with a whirlwind of change: one that has Kyle Orton in place of Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler and now, one that threatens to leave the Broncos without their star wideout, Brandon Marshall.
Despite a revamp of their defense and the addition of RB Knowshon Moreno through the draft, the departure of Cutler and the possible departure of Marshall will undoubtedly result in a downgrade of Denver's passing offense, the most productive part of their team in 2008.
Their novice coach certainly comes with an impressive resume, managing New England's high-powered offense under Bill Bellichick in the past three years. However, the Bellichick coaching tree (Mangini, Crennel, Groh, Saban) has yet to produce any real fruits in the pros.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, are looking to completely revamp their defensive scheme and philosophy while incorporating a new starting QB, new head coach, new personnel director and shedding their most popular player of the last ten years.
Even in a league like the NFL where even the most unlikely franchises are able to resurrect themselves year in and year out, the idea of the Chiefs going from 2-14 in 2008 to legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2009 is a hard pill to swallow.
The same scenario applies for the Oakland Raiders.
Whereas the Chiefs decided to address their downward spiral by shaking up their front office and their players, there was no such idealistic shift in Oakland, where Al Davis is still master and commander of a franchise that has won just 24 games since 2003.
Though Smith refers respectfully to Davis and the Raiders in general, it is obvious that his worries about the west lie elsewhere, mainly Colorado and Missouri.
And despite Davis' repeatedly questioned personnel decisions (by Mel Kiper and anyone outside of Raider Nation), Smith mustn't forget that Davis was also once the architect of a storied dynasty that won three Super Bowls over the span of seven years.
Or maybe what should occupy his attention is what he can do to make the Chargers into the best team out there. Focusing on bolstering San Diego's sagging defense via the draft was a good start, but there are still some holes on an otherwise deep roster.
His gruff demeanor and perceived itchy trigger finger when it comes to jettisoning stars in order to satisfy his power trip could also benefit from a makeover.
Losing Drew Brees and Michael Turner for minimal compensation didn't help the Chargers at all, and the thought of LaDainian Tomlinson (for much of the off-season) or Shawne Merriman (the speculation from here on out) in other uniforms should scare Smith more than a 33 year-old novice coach and a rival GM with his work cut out for him.
Perhaps the simplest solution is also the best one for Smith and the Chargers: work. Work at being the best. They're already awful close.
On the cusp, one might say.
The Chargers fulfilling their potential and hitting their stride?
That's enough to keep even Bill Bellichick up at night.
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