Free agency has not been a road well traveled for the Chargers since general manager A.J. Smith took over the reins in 2003. Smith prefers to build through the draft and has generally prioritized the re-signing of players within the organization rather than fishing in the foreign waters of the free-agent pool.
Tuesday, the Chargers captain of personnel reeled in two veteran defenders and prevented two unrestricted free agents from jumping ship.
The Sanders deal was agreed to in principle months ago but was not consummated prior to the lockout and Spikes was rumored to be a fit with three of the Chargers middle linebackers currently unrestricted free agents and Spikes' ties to new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who held the same post with Spikes' former team, the 49ers.
Smith also took care of the offense on Tuesday by committing to right tackle Jeremy Clary on a four-year contract and retaining the services of veteran tight end Randy McMichael.
While none of these moves are surprising, they each have a significant impact on the 2011 season. McMichael will serve as an insurance policy for Antonio Gates whose amazing ability has been recently hindered by his fragile feet. The signing of Clary finally provides security to the right tackle, who has been signed to a one-year contract each of the past four seasons. It also enhances continuity along an offensive line that will return all five starters.
Bob Sanders will be given every opportunity to be the starting strong safety, prove that he can stay healthy and return to his Pro Bowl prowess.
Takeo Spikes' arrival surely signals Stephen Cooper's departure. Cooper is an unrestricted free agent and may be the least athletic in a group that includes Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler.
Spikes, a 13-year veteran, made 109 tackles for the 49ers last season, an impressive feat when considering he had to compete with Patrick Willis to get to the ball-carrier. Spikes' leadership will assist new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky in his transition to San Diego.
Having a veteran who understands his system and expectations, Manusky can focus on installing his nuances to a defense that ranked first in the NFL.
With the lockout over, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith appears to be locked in on shaping his roster for the 2011 season.