Is Chargers' "Window" Closed Now?

Dave HoganContributor IIJanuary 17, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Tight end Dustin Keller#81 of the New York Jets catches a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

I have to admit, I was wrong.  The Charger's latest playoff choke raises lot's of questions.  Apologies in advance as this choke job has me rambling.

Unlike all of the earlier articles I've posted, there is great cause for concern in Mission Valley. 

It may be too early to start thinking about Free Agency but this is the year that General Manager A.J Smith needs to put aside his ego and open up the checkbook.

More about the Free Agents later.  In the Microcosm of the loss it is noteworthy that the Chargers lost the playoff game due to problems with discipline that were largely ignored because they were winning.

Until this weekend, they were one of the least penalized.  With their season on the line you have to wonder where the leadership was? Headbunts? Flag Football penalties? 

Strangely neither of these transgressions were called on off-the-field diva's Shawn Merriman and Antonio Cromartie. However the lack of discipline off the field should be dealt with this year. Don't let the door hit you on the way out of town.  Both of these guys had sub par seasons.  Time to emphasize discipline and hope it carries over to the field.

Free Agents abound and I will be the first to bid adieu to Shawn Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson.  Both for lack of production, and with all due respect to one of the top running backs of all time— the gas tank seems to be empty.

Of course LT apologists will continue to point out the loss of a blocking back (Lorenzo Neal), and the lack of O Line blocking.  LT is a great man, both on and off the field and I am disappointed that the Chargers are not going to get him a well deserved Ring.  

Unfortunately in this business, the Chargers will get more bang for their buck with a youth movement in the backfield. The Chargers do need to draft or acquire another running back or two, and rotate them in to get the running game going again.

In the meantime, If they can re-sign Darren Sproles — It's time to turn the reigns over at tailback and even though he is not an every down back, he is a good option in a pass first league.

Before I get the barrage of posts stating how important LT is to the running game and how important it is to winning, I will say this — if the Jets win the Super Bowl, I really do know nothing.  The Vikings, with the best running back in the NFC, are a pass first offense. Same with the Saints and Indy.

Vincent Jackson is a key to re-sign, even if the Bolts need to put the franchise tag on him.  Doubtful they can retain both Malcom Floyd and they are a nice tandem, however a true deep threat would compliment Jackson's vertical game well.  Future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates is obviously solid at tight end.

At left tackle, Marcus McNeil is key to pass protection and has formed a good tandem with Kris Dielman.  Hopefully they bring McNeil back.  On the other side of the line, defensive tackle Luis Castillo has to be consider a bust.

I don't think the Chargers can sustain a fourth straight year with a slow start and win the Division again.  If they don't make the changes necessary to get discipline and leadership enlisted on Defense, the finger pointing will start very early next year and a clubhouse disaster will follow.

Through all the adversity, they have been an "aww schucks, what, me worry?" team. There now has to be a tremendous amount of anxiety that they will end up like the Air Coryell teams relegated to the dust bin of history's great offensive teams to never win a Super Bowl.

One final note on today: the Chargers had the advantage both at QB and Special Teams.  It is just a little too ironic that Rivers needed to play mistake free at QB for the Chargers to win.  Nate Kaeding's woeful performance leaves me head scratching.

Congratulations to the Jets: they were the better team, played with poise and on this day—had better Coaching.  Sorry Norv Haters, since Pete Carroll is in Seattle, there is no way he could be fired. Unless Wade Phillips becomes available?

Hopefully Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera will come back.  I much prefer his no name defense with solid linebacking then the hyped style that is Merriman and Cromartie.  Again on Tomlinson, despite his twelve td's, the Bolts were 31st in the running game.

Stranger things have happened than the Jet's upset, but the Charger's are snake bitten again. If they ever get there, it will have been a long, strange trip to the Super Bowl.  The window will not close soon for lack of talent but rather for lack of leadership, discipline, and intangibles.