The San Diego Chargers have a total of 30 different free agent decisions to make this offseason, and that is without looking on the open market for upgrades. Key players like Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles might not be returning next season to the Chargers.
San Diego had a great team last season, but it is almost assured that not every one of those 30 players will be back for the 2011 season (if there is one).
Which free agents will leave and who will remain a Charger?
The former Utah safety, Eric Weddle, is eligible to hit the free agent market this offseason. This is one of the players that I feel absolutely needs to be back next season for the Chargers to be successful. The California native has played great football while wearing a lightning bolt on his helmet as he is a better than average defender against both the run and the pass.
Weddle performed very well in 2010 as he had 96 tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown).
Weddle secures the free safety position and the Chargers would be making a huge mistake to not bring him back. A.J. Smith should make Weddle one of his top priorities and re-sign him back to San Diego. The hard-hitting safety wearing No. 32 will remain a Charger.
Brandon Siler is one of the more underrated Chargers on this football team. For just a seventh round pick out of the University of Florida, he has been quite valuable on special teams and as a goal-line stopper for the Bolts.
There have been numerous occasions where the Chargers defense have made a goal-line stand because of Siler making a huge play or two.
Siler should not be too expensive to bring back and I do think that A.J. Smith re-signs him to add depth to the linebacker position and to keep one of his solid special team players on the roster. It would be an awful move to not bring back Brandon Siler (just like it was to let Osgood walk away).
The veteran linebacker Cooper will have the chance to leave San Diego this offseason should he choose so. Cooper had been one of the more solid players on the Chargers defense in the past, but he did not have a good season in 2010.
He had injury problems and only recorded 43 tackles and one interception.
Those numbers do not help Cooper this offseason, but maybe A.J. Smith re-signs him based on what he has done in the past. I do not see that happening and I believe 2010 was Cooper's last year playing for San Diego.
I look for the Chargers to bring in a run-stopping type linebacker to replace him, someone like Takeo Spikes.
Kevin Burnett was arguably the most important player to the Chargers defense last season. Burnett was a force to be reckoned with, and without him playing linebacker, I would go as far to say that the Chargers would not have had a Top 10 defense last year.
He recorded 95 tackles, had six sacks, forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes (one was a pick-six vs. Peyton Manning).
A.J. Smith, I'm sure, saw how important Burnett was to the defense and will re-sign the veteran back to the Chargers. Not only does Burnett bring a great game to the field, but he will also serve as a mentor to young linebacker Donald Butler.
Currently known as the "best backup quarterback in the NFL," Volek will hit the market this offseason and might possibly be offered the opportunity to be a starter for a different team. While A.J. Smith would love to keep No. 7 in navy and gold to be Rivers backup, Volek could choose otherwise for a better job.
If Volek leaves, I expect A.J. Smith to snag a QB like an Alex Smith or Marc Bulger to be the second string quarterback, as well draft a college quarterback with a sixth or seventh round pick. I believe that the position of backup QB is very underrated in today's game and it is always a plus to have a decent player on the sidelines ready to step into the game and keep the offense moving on all cylinders.
That is what Volek brought to San Diego, and though most Chargers (including myself) would love to see him back next season, I see Volek moving on to a different team that needs a veteran QB to be a starter.
The 5'9", 243 pound bowling ball of Mike Tolbert took over the running game in 2010 when highly touted first round pick Ryan Matthews went down to an ankle injury. Rushing for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns, Tolbert filled in for Matthews exceptionally.
Previously used as a fullback and special teamer, Tolbert showed he is also valuable running the ball and especially at punching a run into the end zone for a score. The organization loves Tolbert, and while I have seen other writers think that this is another case of Michael Turner, I believe he comes back to the Chargers next season and many seasons following that.
The little "Lightning Bug" in Sproles may have made his last charge in a San Diego uniform. After wanting close to $7M dollars to play in the 2010 season, he did not perform anything better than mediocre. He did not return one kick or punt back for a touchdown and isn't much of an affective rusher anymore.
He is a productive receiver, but he is a small back that is susceptible to arm tackles, which doesn't increase his value.
I believe there are better options for a "change-of-pace" running back in the draft this year that A.J. Smith should take a look at before bringing back Darren Sproles.
Legedu Naanee started the season off as the team's No. 2 wide receiver. After having an impressive game against the Chiefs in the season opener, Naanee's production declined throughout the year. In 10 games played, Naanee had 23 receptions, 371 yards and one touchdown.
While those are not impressive numbers to say the least, I believe Naanee will return next year, but as the third or fourth option at wide receiver. Naanee has talent, that is for sure, but his consistency is what hurts him.
Malcom Floyd is a playmaker. No one can deny that when he is on the field that he is a major threat to opposing defenses. He has the ability to go up for jump balls and come down with them due to his 6'5" long body and great hands. Malcom had a magnificent game in Oakland where he caught eight balls for 213 yards and a touchdown.
Floyd was on his way to putting up a great year, but it was derailed by a nagging hamstring injury. He still finished with 37 receptions, 717 yards and six touchdowns. He only played in 11 games in 2010 and he would have most definitely finished with 1,000 plus yards and at least 10 touchdowns.
San Diego would take a huge loss if Floyd were to leave San Diego and go onto another team. A.J. Smith will keep Malcom Floyd in San Diego, in my opinion, and pay him what he deserves.
Rivers will have MF80 for the 2011 season.
Vincent "Action" Jackson did not see much action in 2010 as he held out for most of the season and also had a team suspension he was forced to serve. Even though there were rumors about the Chargers possibly shopping Jackson for draft picks, he remained a San Diego Charger. He has said before that he would love to stay in San Diego, but the only way that will happen is if both Jackson and Smith compromise on a contract that will pay Jackson like a No. 1 receiver.
I would not be surprised either way if Jackson is out of San Diego or if he remains a Charger and continues to be Rivers favorite option. If he does stay a Charger, it is because A.J. Smith paid him a sizable contract probably worth around $8-9M a year for somewhere around four or five years.
It was reported by ESPN that Jackson was seeking a five-year contract worth $50M, with $30M guaranteed. I am quite sure that Smith will not hand out a contract like that to Jackson.
The other option is to place the franchise tag (if this is still an option in the new CBA) on him and either have him play out the 2011 season as a Charger or trade him to a team in need of a No. 1 WR (Chicago, Minnesota, New England, Cincinnati, etc...).
There is no doubt that the Chargers are a better team with Vincent Jackson lined up at wide receiver. I am just not positive as to what will happen with him over the next couple of months.
As of right now, I believe he will be suiting up in navy and gold next season.