2011 NFL Free Agency: 5 Players the San Diego Chargers Must Target
It's playoff time and sadly, the San Diego Chargers finished the 2010 season with 9-7 record in the AFC West standings, falling just one game behind division champions Kansas City Chiefs
Despite having their offense and defense ranked No. 1 in the league, they are sitting at home watching the drama between former Chargers player Antonio Cromartie and Tom Brady unfold.
Let's hope that is not what general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner are doing, though.
Let's hope they are busy spending the off season holding long, rigorous and intense pow-wow meetings on how to improve the team and getting ready for the 2011 season.
Let's hope they are paying close attention to the 15 free agents they have on the roster and paying closer attention to the vast amount of free agent players entering the market during off season.
I may not be privy to those meetings, but let's pretend that I am. Which free agent players would I suggest that Smith and Turner target and pursue aggressively?
Nnamdi Asomugha: 3-Time Pro Bowl Cornerback
Asomugha and Kirk Morrison
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Having voided the last year of his three-year contract with the Oakland Raiders due to certain incentives not being reached, three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is entering the market as an unrestricted free agent.
Asomugha grew up in the Los Angeles area and has been with the Oakland Raiders since 2003. In his eight seasons with the Raiders, he has managed to accumulate a total of 272 tackles and 11 interceptions.
Although the San Diego Chargers are not known for spending big money on free agent players, adding Asomugha to the roster would be a stellar improvement to the team. This would free up Quentin Jammer—who is now in his prime—to play strong safety.
If the Chargers decide to keep free agent Eric Weddle, who plays free safety, he and Jammer could be one of the best safety duos in the NFL.
Another scenario might be having Jammer and Asomugha team up in the corners and have cornerback Antoine Cason back them up. Although, with the inevitability of losing running back Darren Sproles to free agency, Cason could very well remain as the punt/kick returner.
Take note—on Jan. 12, 2011, the San Diego Chargers signed rookie CB Traye Simmons off the practice squad. We shall see if he remains on the active roster during the regular season.
Sidney Rice: Pro Bowl Wide Receiver
In the event that the San Diego Chargers lose any or all three of their wide receivers, (Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee), to free agency, they will have a huge void at the WR position to fill.
Regardless of the fact that they still have Kelley Washington, Patrick Crayton and Seyi Ajirotutu—who had his breakout game against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 31—on the roster, they are still going to need a seasoned WR like Rice.
If the Minnesota Vikings do not put a transition tag on King Rice this upcoming season to prove his worth, he will be a great addition to the team. His statistics this season are nowhere near his numbers from the previous but he is just returning from a serious hip injury which proves his potential as an asset to the Chargers' high-caliber offense.
The ideal situation would be for Jackson to stay on with the team but it is unlikely A.J. Smith will pay what he is worth. If he does not sign Jackson during the offseason—whether it be a long-term contract or a franchise tag—the Chargers are going to need a new deep threat.
Kirk Morrison: Middle Linebacker
Morrison, Rivers and Dielman
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The San Diego Chargers are on the verge of losing the heart and captain of their No. 1 ranked defense, linebacker Stephen Cooper, to free agency; along with three other linebackers—Antwan Applewhite, Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler.
Although Cooper landed on the injury reserved list on Dec. 31 due to a season ending knee injury, his return is essential to this team. In the event that he does not, A.J. Smith and Norv Turner should look into bringing former Aztec player Kirk Morrison back to San Diego.
Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, a California native, was born and raised in Oakland and attended San Diego State University before being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2005 with their third-round pick. He played five seasons with the Raiders and one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he was second on the team in tackles with a total of 141. Morrison has missed only one game his entire NFL career.
Shaun Phillips and Larry English are solid as outside linebackers and with the uncertainty of both Cooper's and Burnett's return, and with Donald Butler being on the injured reserve list his rookie season, signing a solid middle linebacker like Morrison will be a great fit for Chargers defense.
Bo Scaife: Tight End
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As I am 'privy' to these meetings that A.J. Smith and Norv Turner are holding during offseason, I have to be realistic and keep my business mentality intact knowing only too well that the San Diego Chargers are adverse to spending money.
On Jan. 12, the Chargers signed former Washington Redskins tight end free agent Dennis Morris. Although they still have Kory Sperry and Kris Wilson on the active roster, with Antonio Gates on the injured reserve list and the possibility of losing Randy McMichael to free agency, Smith and Turner need to pursue a seasoned TE like Bo Scaife.
Although there are other names out there like Mercedes Lewis and Kevin Boss,
San Diego adamantly refused to pay WR Jackson his asking price, which led into a long and drawn out salary dispute, making it highly unlikely that McMichael will receive his asking price either.
Scaife looks like the safe choice.
Haloti Ngata: 2-Time Pro Bowl Defensive Lineman
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The San Diego Chargers need a play maker for their defensive end position. Defensive linemen Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson are two of the 15 free agents on the list.
Although DL Cesaire has started 29 games, has been stable and remained healthy, there is a possibility of retaining him, but not as a starter. Even with DEs Luis Castillo and Martin Vaughn, they are not strong enough reasons for Smith and Turner not to pursue a difference-maker for this position.
I believe two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Haloti Ngata to be best suited for this position. Ngata is a run stopper and definitely a man's man on the field. He has been a big threat to opposing teams and constantly requires double coverage, thus freeing up the inside linebackers.
One might even add that he may be a factor on why DL Ray Lewis has been playing better in his old age. Ngata has been in front of him taking down two men at a time giving Lewis room to roam. Even with the Chargers finishing second in total sacks in the league, they have room for improvement, and adding Ngata on the roster will definitely make their DEs more productive.
Given the Baltimore Ravens are in the playoffs, we have yet to see if they decide to retain this impact player who had an outstanding 2010 season.
Other Notable Free Agents: Seymour, Spikes, Woodley, Boss and Light
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Just in case A.J. Smith and Norv Turner do not go with any of my selections, here are some other players I suggest they should consider pursuing:
Defensive lineman Richard Seymour: He is a good defensive lineman and it helps that he knows the American Football Conference. If the Oakland Raiders decide not to keep him, he might have a chip on his shoulder and the San Diego Chargers can sure use some of that fire when they meet again next season.
Linebacker Takeo Spikes: He is "old," but experienced and familiar with Chargers' new defensive coach Greg Manusky's system. Spikes possesses great leadership and he helped shape Patrick Willis into the player that he is today.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley: Although he's synonymous with the cost factor, he is younger than Spikes. He might even be more productive having played in Pittsburgh, a team that is known to play hard and physical.
Tight end Kevin Boss: After having an offseason hip injury-related surgery on the 12th of this month, Boss should be "brand new" by the time training season comes around. He has been productive with the New York Giants, but his numbers will most likely increase with QB Rivers throwing him more executable and accurate passes than QB Eli Manning.
Offensive tackle Matt Light: Light was recently added to the 2010 Pro Bowl roster—his third—to replace Miami Dolphins Jake Long due to a shoulder and knee injury. Light will bring in nine seasons of experience with him and three Super Bowl rings. Although his numbers declined this season, a change of venue, and perhaps some sun, might do him some good—and the change he needs to reignite his drive.
To Sign or Not to Sign: Collective Bargaining Agreement and Other Factors
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Now that A.J. Smith and Norv Turner have my list of free agents whom they should pursue aggressively, perhaps it is time that we look at the deciding factors that may or may not make these play makers sign on the dotted line.
The San Diego Chargers recently made major changes in their coaching staff. Special teams coach Steve Crosby's contract was not renewed at the end of the season after nine seasons with the team. The position has been filled by Rich Bisaccia, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's unfortunate departure also opened a large void that was filled by Greg Manusky, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Along with the above mentioned staff changes, the roster is bound to have changes as well.
However, with the uncertainty of the National Football League's Collective Bargaining Agreement being resolved by its' March 4 deadline, the San Diego Chargers' roster remains uncertain.. Pending the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, 15 players are likely to be unrestricted free agents.
The question whether the new CBA will include a franchise tag or not is also uncertain. Until there is a new CBA, free agent players can not sign with their former or with any other team.
All we can do at this point is wait and see if Smith decides whether he is going to spend the money and go for broke to build a Super Bowl contender team, or go with history and not splash big bucks on free agents. Either way, it's difficult to hit a moving target.