San Diego general manager A.J. Smith acknowledges it won’t be business as usual this offseason for the Chargers.
Smith said Thursday that there may be “significant changes” with veteran members of San Diego’s roster being cut or not re-signed. That would require Smith to dip into free agency for replacements, which is something he hasn’t liked doing during his decade-long stint with the Chargers.
“My philosophy hasn’t changed at all but we may be more active because of the unknown circumstances of players potentially leaving our team,” Smith told me and co-host Bill Polian on Sirius XM NFL Radio from the NFL Scouting Combine. “I think this particular year at some positions it’s extremely strong and very, very attractive. The market is flooded with all different levels of players.
“We have to put price tags next to players … I’m not open-minded to the big-player signing, but I think our fans back home think I’m anti-free agency. I’m not. It’s a great opportunity to add players. But I believe in drafting your own and keeping that window going (through re-signings).”
Just how active San Diego will be may depend on what transpires with wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Chargers will talk with Jackson’s agents about a contract extension and could name him their franchise player for a second consecutive season. Jackson, though, would reportedly count $13.7 million against San Diego’s salary cap on a one-year deal.
Smith said some of the off-field problems Jackson had in the past were no longer a Chargers concern when it comes to offering a long-term deal.
“We have the ability to franchise him although that figure is high,” Smith said. “I don’t particularly like the option because we have different plans and that’s a big (cap) hit. But we’d love to have him back.”
Smith said solidifying San Diego’s offensive line was a “huge priority,” especially because three starters (left tackle Marcus McNeill, left guard Kris Dielman and center Nick Hardwick) could be elsewhere in 2012. Hardwick is an unrestricted free agent; Dielman (concussion) and McNeill (neck) had their 2011 seasons end prematurely because of serious medical issues.
“We’d love to have (Hardwick) back, but what does that mean? We’ll pursue it and see where it goes from there,” Smith said.
“Kris Dielman is contemplating what he’s going to do with his future. We’ve talked to him and we’ll talk to him again when we get back from the combine. Marcus McNeill, there are some medical issues we’re working our way through. We’ve been doing that for a few years now.”Besides changes with veteran players, Smith wants to upgrade the overall quality of San Diego’s roster. A major factor in San Diego’s two-season playoff drought was the inability to field enough quality replacements when hit with a rash of player injuries.
“We never like to talk about (injuries) during the season because it’s an excuse, but it’s a reality that we have to look at,” said Smith, whose team finished 8-8. “It has not been good for the Chargers the last couple years whether people say that’s an excuse or not. Other teams have been injured and have been able to maintain the course. I have to do a better job (with personnel) so you can hold the fort with backup players.”