Despite only adding one player thus far (waiver wire running back Marcus Mason), the San Diego Chargers have had a very busy offseason so far. Whether it be tendering restricted free agents, making trades, or releasing expensive veterans, San Diego has been very active.
Looking at the initial moves in San Diego’s offseason can be broken down into two obvious sections: players retained and players let go. For this first part, we will look at those retained, or more specifically, the restricted free agents San Diego chose to tender.
Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, and Marcus McNeil Given Highest Tenders
These are lumped into one because they constitute a no-brainer. Philip Rivers helmed one of the league’s best passing attacks in 2009. He suffered very few sacks considering his poor mobility and frequent downfield throws.
In summing up the team’s passing attack in that manner, it becomes a no-brainer to ensure that you retain your two starting wide receivers and left tackle, all of whom are under 29.
It may occur to some to give Floyd a first-round tender, saving some money if no team is willing to give that up. The problem with this is that none of the top receiving talents are as well suited to, or familiar with the offense San Diego runs.
The highest rated big wideout (6’3’’ or better) is upper third round, and very raw talented, Carlton Mitchell. The only receiver that looks ready to start, who would likely still be available when San Diego picks would be 5’11’’, 195-pound Golden Tate.
San Diego may be able to find an acceptable alternative to Floyd, but will almost assuredly be unable to find a real upgrade at the position.
Merriman Given Highest Tender
I understand the logic of this move. For a discount price, you get one more year to see if Merriman can return to his old form before going about real contract negotiations.
That said, the move could come back to haunt them in the long-term. If he posts a solid 2010 campaign, the team will be forced to negotiate a contract with him while he holds much more bargaining power.
Merriman already expressed some dissatisfaction with being tendered and could consider the roughly $3 million contract a slight, signing elsewhere because of it. Even if he doesn't, he would command a much higher contract with a return to form and unrestricted status, something the team may not want to compete with.
If he has a poor 2010, he will undoubtedly be allowed to walk when his contract expired, netting the team nothing.
What they could have done: Give Merriman either a first-only, or even a second-round tender. Do this with the hope that you can find some team to bite and sign him away for that price, netting a draft pick out of the move.
Even if he's retained and has a good 2010, but is upset over his salary, he can be franchised and traded away. If taking a "must-trade" discount, they should still net respectable dividends if his 2010 season is solid enough to set up this scenario.
Giving Merriman the top tender in the offseason could be a solid move for the upcoming year, but might ultimately be a long-term mistake if his either value drops to nonexistent by having another poor year, or leaves the team to net a big payday next offseason.
Darren Sproles Given Highest Tender
The move is puzzling. Yes, San Diego grew worried when they couldn’t come to a quick accord with Sproles, who was drawing considerable league interest. It doesn’t mean they should have taken such reactionary steps.
Giving him a first-only or second-round tender was a non-option. Both would have given Sproles the same $7 million salary that the highest tender put in play (thanks to his franchise tag last offseason).
However, the team could have given him the lowest tender, which would not have triggered that excessive salary level. The fear is that it would only cost a fourth-round draft pick to pry Sproles away, but that only tells half the story.
San Diego would still hold the right to match any offer sheet given to Sproles. The odds of any offer sheet San Diego would have to compete with reaching the $7 million mark is virtually nil.
The power is now all in Darren Sproles hands. It would make little sense to come to a long-term deal with San Diego at present.
Given his assumed market value, he can collect two-and-a-half years worth of salary in one season, and then test the open market afterwards.
Charlie Whitehurst Given Lowest Tender
For Whitehurst, this would be a third-round tender (based on when he was originally drafted). This is a great move for San Diego for a variety of reasons.
If they retain him, he would come quite cheap, which is necessary for a third-string quarterback. Better than that is the fact that they may entice a team like Seattle or Arizona to bite, landing them a solid pick for a player not figuring to see the field as a Charger.
Travis Johnson Given Lowest Tender
An underrated move. As a former first-round draft pick, the move assures no competition and gives San Diego a fairly inexpensive defensive lineman that may not be big enough to play the nose full-time, but can perform spot duty at any position along the line.
He did well in limited time when he wasn't injured, and could be a valuable depth guy, given extra time to learn the Chargers system.