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San Diego Chargers: Who Stays and Who Goes in the 2010 Offseason

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San Diego Chargers: Who Stays and Who Goes in the 2010 Offseason
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Going into what could be a potentially confusing and uncertain offseason for players, management, and fans alike, Chargers GM, A.J. Smith, made his first statement only hours after the season-ending loss against the Jets:

Norv Turner is in charge.

Smith reasoned that among other things, continuity is the key for the team getting over the hump and into a Super Bowl, which meant keeping Turner and his staff through 2013.

With that bit of speculation resolved, Smith will now move into his most challenging offseason yet, with a hoard of talents on his team moving towards free agency and a looming agreement between the players' union and the NFL (or lack of) dictating his policy.

At first glance, it would seem that Smith does his best to display his mood and preference for certain players by not letting their contracts expire in the first place.  Case in point: QB Philip Rivers, who received a six-year, $92 million extension before the start of the '09 season.  Similarly, Antonio Gates signed a six-year deal in 2005 (albeit while staging a holdout) before his original contract ended.  On the flip side, Smith saw no problem with DE Igor Olshansky leaving town last season, or Drew Brees and Donnie Edwards before him.

However, this off-season will tell a different tale.

With so many players reaching an end to their contracts, A.J. is going to have to pick and choose which he plans to pursue.  Who he sets free will dictate draft policy, and who he keeps will hold him accountable for the franchise's future, assuming Smith's modus operandi of not signing incoming free agents from other teams stays firm.

And while this article makes an attempt to enter the GM's head, it should be noted that Smith has been known to delve into the occasional "huh?" decision (signing Jyles Tucker long-term?).

Potential Free Agents


QB, Charlie Whitehurst

Charlie is third on the Chargers' quarterbacking depth chart, behind All-Pro Philip Rivers and capable backup Billy Volek.

And he knows it.

There are some opportunities around the league with starting positions potentially open, but not too many attractive ones.

If the league and union reach an agreement, Whitehurst will be an unrestricted free agent, and would probably leave if any team promised a decent shot at the starting job.

With an uncapped year, Whitehurst would be a restricted free agent, meaning San Diego would be able to match any offer made to him, or at the very least, receive compensation for losing him.

Thus, a team would have to really, really want Charlie to go through the trouble.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

RB, Darren Sproles

Will enter the same situation as last season, in which he signed a tender from the team worth over $6 million in order to avoid departing.

A capped season will likely elicit several offers from teams who will looking to use him in a myriad of ways: third-down back, return man, slot receiver, or all-purpose runner.

However, with the Chargers suddenly thin at RB and the release of LaDainian Tomlinson looking imminent, the team will probably do whatever it takes to keep him in San Diego.

An uncapped season will make this much easier, as high compensation will most likely be needed in exchange for his services, and Smith probably offering a deal before this even comes to pass.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

WR, Malcom Floyd

Truly a best-case scenario for Floyd.

This season, he blossomed as a legitimate No. 2 WR opposite Vincent Jackson, and provided yet another big target (6'5") for Philip Rivers in the passing game.

His value is unquestioned, but Floyd is likely to set off a frenzy among pass-happy teams who will want big receivers for their systems.

With six years in the league, Malcom will be an unrestricted free agent no matter what the 2010 ends up being in terms of a salary cap.

Despite this, the Chargers might slap a "franchise" tag on him (there would be two going into an uncapped season), making other teams wary of giving up a draft pick for the chance to sign him.

However, Craig Davis and Legedu Naanee are waiting in the wings, and special-teams whiz Kassim Osgood is also clamoring for an opportunity on offense, which might influence A.J. Smith if push comes to shove.

Capped Verdict (with one franchise tag): Goes

Uncapped Verdict (with two franchise tags): Goes

 

WR, Vincent Jackson

Jackson is priority one for San Diego's management.

Despite developing the affliction of a diva complex increasingly common among elite wide receivers, Jackson is a growing favorite of QB, Philip Rivers.

Legal and disciplinary troubles aside, Jackson's talent is too much to be ignored.

He lead the team in receiving yards and touchdowns and capped off his season with a wondrous Pro Bowl, ending as the game's leading receiver.

With either Naanee, Davis or another wide receiver filling the spot on the opposite side of the field, Rivers and the Charger offense will rely more on Jackson in 2010.

Keeping him won't be cheap, though.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

WR/ST, Kassim Osgood

Invaluable part of the special teams brigade.

His growing dissatisfaction over not being a part of the passing game could be quelled if Floyd leaves; the fact that Osgood is purely local (growing up in Central California, going to SDSU for college, and playing his entire career thus far in San Diego) might be a factor in swaying his decision.

However, there is concern that another team might guarantee him a shot at playing WR full-time, which could pull him away.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Goes

 

TE, Kris Wilson

Has blossomed into an acceptable target in the passing game, but his strength lies in blocking. However, with Brandon Manumaleuna fulfilling the same role, keeping him might lie in the fact that he's likely more affordable.

That might be the most appealing factor in deciding Wilson's continuity: signability.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

TE, Brandon Manumaleuna

Essentially an extra offensive lineman. With the Chargers having trouble opening holes in the running game, Manumaleuna is viewed as a valuable player with some amount of versatility due to the fact he has relatively good hands.

Again, if push comes to shove, and the Chargers have to do away with one of the two, Brandon is likely to stay. His contract demands will be important in weighing the viability of keeping three veterans on the roster or signing a rookie later on.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

OL, Jeromy Clary

Has never been a blue-chip lineman and was often the weak link on an otherwise solid group (when healthy, of course).

This season, he was showing signs of maturation that were unfortunately halted by his injury. With the emergence of Brandon Dombrowski, Clary might become expendable.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Goes

 

Will Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie, and LaDainian Tomlinson Wear Powder Blue in 2010?

 

OL, Marcus McNeill

Should be a no-brainer, but McNeill's injury history might plant a seed of doubt in the head of management.

When healthy, McNeill is a top-five caliber player at his position, a Pro-Bowler, and a vital part of San Diego's offense.

However, the Chargers' depth was already put to the test in 2009, and there is no guarantee that your bench will continue to bail you out should the starters continue to succumb to injuries.

McNeill will have to tread lightly with his demands if he wishes to continue in San Diego, but ultimately the team's need will probably necessitate higher bidding.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

OL, Jon Runyan

He says he's done, and that 2009 was his swan song. He might be running for Congress.

A miracle keeps him in San Diego.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Goes

 

C, Dennis Norman

Norman, an early-season pickup from Jacksonville, did not see any action for the team. Beyond depth, there's seemingly no reason why he would stay, especially with a shake up of the line likely.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Goes

 

DL, Alfonso Boone

Part of last season's carousel of defensive linemen thanks to injury. Boone looked okay in his outings, but he's not a potential replacement for Jamal Williams.

San Diego will be looking to upgrade via the draft, and platoon-mate Travis Johnson outplayed him for stretches.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Goes

 

DL, Antonio Garay

Unless coaches on the defensive side of the ball have seen a definite upside to Garay, he will most likely be displaced for younger talent.

Even with a serious depletion in front-line talent, Garay was never used more than sparingly.

His youth might be a factor in him catching on beyond this season.

Capped Verdict: Goes

Uncapped Verdict: Goes

 

DL, Ian Scott

Scott has been serviceable in his two seasons in San Diego. Along with Travis Johnson, he looked good in spells at the front of the Charger defense.

He seems to be a favorite of the staff, and will likely continue to be a backup.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

LB, Tim Dobbins

An important part of San Diego's four-man rotation at inside linebacker. Along with Kevin Burnett, Stephen Cooper, and Brandon Siler, Dobbins contributes with steady tackling and is possibly the best cover linebacker on the team.

While he might be an attractive option for teams lacking in 3-4 depth, he is likely a high priority for the team. An uncapped season might lead to overbidding.

Capped Verdict: Stays

Uncapped Verdict: Stays

 

LB, Shawne Merriman

Easily one of the biggest questions regarding the Chargers' front office. Like Jackson, he has been known to engage in actions that question his discipline and drive off and on the field.

A.J. Smith is more likely to bounce a player out for questioning the staff or holding out for more money as opposed to actually breaking the law or leading a particularly sketchy lifestyle.

However, Jackson is on the rise while Merriman has seemed to drop off since his knee injury a few years ago.

Expect San Diego to slap a franchise tag on him and give him the opportunity to play for his contract in 2011 under a potentially new labor agreement that would limit overspending.

Capped Verdict (with one franchise tag): Stays

Uncapped Verdict (with two franchise tags): Stays

 

Situations with Non-Free Agents

 

RB, LaDainian Tomlinson

Last year, he took a pay cut to stay in San Diego that was partly brought on by a decline in performance.

This past season, Tomlinson's performance has skidded further due in part to age, bad play calling, and a patchwork offensive line.

However, A.J. Smith and Tomlinson have sniped at each other in the past, and LT's reputation in the city might have been the deciding factor in saving his job last season.

In 2010, he will not be so lucky and will probably be given his release in order to sign with another contender.

Dallas, I'm looking at you.

Verdict: Goes

 

CB, Antonio Cromartie

Let's face it: Cro has been living off of a stellar 2007 season in which he picked opposing QBs off 10 times and returned a missed field goal kick 109 yards.

He's a highlight reel when he wants to play. Which is not very often. He's becoming a problem and a distraction.

During the Jets game, nudging Shonn Greene in the end zone when he had a chance to tackle him at the line of scrimmage was likely the last straw.

Verdict: Goes

 

LB, Stephen Cooper

There has been some talk of Cooper possibly gaining his release after he was consistently upstaged by Brandon Siler at important stretches of the 2009 season.

Kevin Burnett and Tim Dobbins are very good players but have been hampered by injuries. His contract runs to 2011, and releasing him now would save money in an uncapped off-season.

However, there are only two consensus top-tier inside linebackers available in the draft this season. Beyond that, the position is not highly regarded as talent-rich in the current draft class.

Verdict: Stays

 

Conclusion

These shifts in personnel, coupled with a unique off-season and a growing impatience for playoff success, will create an interesting gap in certain positions.

The offensive and defensive lines need to be upgraded post-haste. The running back position will suddenly be stripped of talent, and the Chargers, rich in wide-receiver talent, will be forced to make slight adjustments to their passing schemes.

However, even with some big names potentially departing, the core of the team remains talented. A continually weak AFC West also relieves some pressure off of management to make a big splash.

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