Although the San Diego Chargers have not really been making any surprise moves, they have been active this offseason. Part One of this piece took a look at the restricted free agents—notably, who the team tendered and in what fashion.
Now attentions shift to players let go or tacked on to the team so far this offseason— and what the ramifications are.
Ladainian Tomlinson Cut
While unfortunate, this was completely expected by all parties. Tomlinson racked up heavy mileage in his time as a Charger, averaging more than 350 carries per season—and the workload added up.
It is a sad parting, but his two straight years of minor, nagging injuries and reduced performance forced the Chargers brass’s hand.
Weighing this move depends entirely on who the team lands to replace him. Odds are, the primary back is going to come through the draft and not trade or free agency. With a deep draft class, that move should ultimately help the team get younger and stronger in the backfield.
Jamal Williams Cut
This one comes as slightly more unexpected. Williams spent most of 2009 on IR, which makes it difficult to evaluate what his on-field performance would have been.
He was, however, 34, and he entered into the 2009 season with concerns over health issues—especially his knee—before the triceps injury ended his season.
The team had drafted one project player to understudy in the nose tackle role in fourth- round pick Vaughn Martin.
The 320-pounder was the only player with a 3-4 tackle’s frame, yet he failed to secure a starting role, competing with such notables as Ian Scott and Ogemdi Nwagbuo.
The team fared all right without Williams, but San Diego needs to draft a solid nose prospect to at least compete for the starting role if it hopes to generate any consistency in the front seven in 2010.
Antonio Cromartie traded to New York Jets
That San Diego unloaded Cromartie was likely of benefit to San Diego. Antoine Cason’s build and skill set are far better suited to playing on the outside—and the team believed that Cromartie was something of a locker room cancer.
The value of the pick is hard to take, however. Cromartie was traded for a 2011 third- round draft pick—which could evolve into a second if Cromartie reaches certain playing-time markers.
The forestalling of the pick is a bit tough to accept when it was believed he could net a third-round choice in the upcoming draft. The questionable value of the trade could prove a solid gambit, however, if Cromartie can earn San Diego the second-round choice.
Then again, that also means he is doing fairly well for a leading AFC rival.
Marcus Mason Claimed Off Waivers
San Diego had a dearth of running backs. Once Darren Sproles was tendered, it brought the team’s total to one—one who, by all accounts, is at his best with limited carries.
Mason has a nice, solid build at 5’9’’ and 215 pounds, and he looked good in minimal duty. Ultimately, however, he was brought on to compete for the role of third running back in a system that gave fullbacks the third- and fourth-most carries on the team.
It’s nice to see the team have two backs on the roster, but his actual impact in 2010 should be minimal.
Donald Strickland Signed As Free Agent
Well, he’s not Dunta Robinson or Leigh Bodden, but San Diego did bring in an experienced cornerback to fill a need on the team—which is more than most expected prior to the draft.
Strickland is the antithesis of Cromartie. He is a little small and has only average speed, but he is a tough, very aggressive defender who tackles well and is solid in run support.
He is also well-suited to the zone coverage San Diego often employs under Ron Rivera. If Cason falters, he is a solid option to take over the starting role.
At present, however, he will fill the nickel role—which he should perform far better than the troupe of safeties given the duty in 2009. His injury history makes him something of a concern if he does step into starter’s shoes, but ultimately, this is a good move that should impact the team for the better.
Brandon Manumaleuna, Kassim Osgood Allowed To Sign With Other Teams
Both were unrestricted free agents—and thus, their departures cannot be pinned entirely on the team simply "letting them go." Osgood especially was lured away with promise of actual time at the wide receiver position, rather than his duties being restricted to special teams.
That said, his loss will probably be felt most on the team among those so far departed. His ability to get to and down a Scifres punt before momentum carried it into the end zone was superior to anyone else in the league.
That specialized of a role, however, does not warrant the nearly $2.5 million per year given by the Jaguars. His place will be a void difficult to fill—and San Diego just has to hope they find another standout to assume the mantle.
Manumaleuna’s signing with Chicago will likely have a much smaller impact. Essentially an extra offensive tackle, Manumaleuna was one of the best at his role, but that role was decreasing every year, as San Diego’s offense evolved out of the power running game.
The Bears needed to make a splash in the offseason—and they did so by giving starting tight end pay to the 30-year-old former Ram in the form of $3 million per year for five years (taking him to age 35 when the contract expires).
With two free agent tight ends, it became apparent quickly that Kris Wilson fit into San Diego’s plans more than “Manu,” and he will now supplant Manumaleuna as backup to Antonio Gates.
Wilson isn’t as pure of a blocker, but he is more versatile with good hands and an ability to be plugged into a variety of roles in the offense.
The team should still seek out a bulldozing tight end to go behind Wilson on the depth chart, but otherwise, it is still steady at the position.
So far, San Diego has been doing a lot of subtracting with very few additions. Will the trend remain for the duration of the offseason? That is unknown, but what is known is that four players with Pro Bowl resumes are now on different teams—and yet San Diego doesn’t feel that radically different.
The offensive attack will likely change very little. The nose position saw next to nothing of Williams anyway last year, and cornerback play should be much more physical— although it may lack the pickoff threat Cromartie presented.
Who San Diego finds in the draft and the rest of the offseason will be the true determinant as to how these moves play out—and until then, the team cannot be graded as anything but an incomplete.
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