San Diego Chargers' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaFeatured Columnist IIIMarch 11, 2013

San Diego Chargers' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency

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    It's been a busy week in the NFL with all the reported roster cuts, but teams will be even busier with the upcoming free-agency period set to begin this week. The San Diego Chargers and new GM Tom Telesco have much to prove in a new era.

    Telesco got to work early on remodeling his new team with cuts of Takeo Spikes and Atari Bigby this past week, followed by the re-signings of long snapper Mike Windt and kicker Nick Novak. 

    Even though Telesco has already ruled out the possibility of an active hand in free agency for the Chargers, his recent moves have garnered some attention as to what he's got up his sleeve.

    With an original cap number of a little more than $7 million to begin with, Telesco raised that number another $4.5 million with cuts.

    The new GM also has his hands full with word that some of his own free agents are testing the market.

    Here is San Diego's blueprint for winning free agency even if it is not something the team wishes to explore.

Re-Sign Louis Vasquez

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    San Diego is in a tight spot with Louis Vasquez reportedly interested in testing the market. The 25-year-old is more than willing to field offers from other teams, possibly leaving the Chargers without their starting right guard in 2013.

    From what it sounds like, Vasquez's agent, Rob Sheets, isn't all too pleased with the fact that San Diego has dragged its feet in re-signing the fourth-year pro:

    The Chargers had a chance to get something done last November. Now, Lou wants to explore every option.

    (via the Indianapolis Star)

    Vasquez, who started all 16 games for the Chargers last season, is being targeted by the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, according to Yahoo's Jason Cole:

    Great game of musical chairs going on as Tenn,Indy & Bills chase top Gs Andy Levitre, Louis Vasquez. SD chance of keeping Vasquez is slim

    — Jason Cole (@JasonColeYahoo) March 9, 2013

    Not only is Vasquez an important piece of the offensive line, but he's also an important piece of a unit that is in the process of a major overhaul for this upcoming season. His departure would spell immediate trouble for the Chargers if he's not re-signed.

Make the Move for a Marquee Free Agent

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    Telesco has already stated that this isn't the year to make a splash in free agency, but there has to be a reason for such an aggressive attack in clearing cap space right before the start of it.

    When word of Spikes' and Bigby's release came about, it was assumed Telesco was clearing space for the team to focus on re-signing players at positions of need, like Louis Vasquez and Antoine Cason, but it appears as though both men are drawing interest from other teams.

    As mentioned earlier, Vasquez is reportedly a target of the Titans, Colts and Bills. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are one of a few teams reportedly interested in Cason.

    ESPN's AFC West blogger Bill Williamson doesn't see either player returning to San Diego next season.

    If that's the case, the Chargers will still have more than $10 million to spend in free agency for the coming year. That's not even including the added cuts rumored to be made by Telesco this offseason. 

    Why not use that money to replace Vasquez or Cason with a marquee free agent?

    One name that's being tossed around is Bills guard Andy Levitre, who is considered one of the top free agents of this year's class.

Continue with the Needed Cuts

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    It's always tough letting players go, but it's simply business. Telesco seemed to understand that when he released Spikes and Bigby this past week. You hate to see a 15-year vet like Spikes get the boot, but the fact that his release frees up $3 million in cap space makes the sacrifice worth it.

    Two names that have been receiving a lot of heat in regard to cuts are Antonio Garay and Jared Gaither.

    Garay, a fan favorite and one of the more unique members of the team, started all 16 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons while putting up some pretty magnificent numbers. An ankle injury allowed him to play in just eight games this past year.

    While I have no doubt Garay can recover from his injury and make an impact next season, the fact that he's due $5 million in 2013 makes his release a necessary one. Garay is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2013 season anyway.

    Gaither is another cut that has to be made, not because he'll save the Chargers money, but because there were some bridges burned last year when he struggled with injuries to play in just four games. Telesco, however, said he wants to speak with Gaither on the subject of his commitment and make his own decision on whether he wants to keep the 26-year-old. 

    U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken broke down how Gaither's release would effect San Diego from a financial standpoint:

    In terms of impact on the 2013 salary cap, the difference between releasing and keeping Gaither is negligible. He will count $6 million if cut, $6.5 million if kept.

    His roster replacement would cost more than $500,000 against the cap, so it’s essentially cheaper in that sense to keep him. But as cash goes, keeping Gaither means the Chargers would put an additional $4.5 million into the 6-foot-9 lineman’s pocket.

    He’s already earned $9 million for his four games in 2012. 

Get Danario Alexander at a Bargain

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    Also surfacing this past week was the report that the Chargers are considering offering restricted free agent Danario Alexander the lowest possible tender. The reason being that his injury history is a bit concerning.

    An article on Yahoo pointed out that Alexander had undergone five knee surgeries in his career thus far, making his durability a big question in the long run.

    While Alexander did showcase some star ability as a receiver with the Chargers last season, you could understand why the team is trying to get a steal by offering a low tender.