Without contract distractions, rookies get reps

The Chargers are almost bucking tradition before the first offseason workouts start in earnest: their top picks have agreed to deals.

For years the Chargers would square off with draft picks, most notably Philip Rivers in 2004 and Shawne Merriman in 2005, and see which side would blink first. Often those negotiations grew contentious and that year’s prized rookie would miss valuable reps in training camp.

In fact, if Rivers gets to camp on time for his rookie campaign, it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to beat out incumbent Drew Brees. The Chargers were eager to toss the offense over to their celebrated quarterback received from the New York Giants in a trade, but couldn’t do so with a clear conscious after he missed a chunk of training camp.

So Brees starts that year, the Chargers make the playoffs, and that extended Brees’ career in San Diego at least one more season.

That next season would end badly for Brees he injured his shoulder and entered his free-agent year with a bum arm. That was among the reasons the Chargers low-balled him with their offer, eventually getting but a compensatory pick for a future Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

But Melvin Ingram, the team’s first pick in 2012 at No. 18 overall, defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, drafted in the second round, and seventh-round pick David Molk, a center, agreed to terms less than two weeks after the draft.

Contract drama will take a backseat this summer to players actually getting their work in. And with Ingram expected to contribute immediately to a tepid pass rush, he needs all the snaps he can get.

“We’re happy to have some of the deals complete,” general manager A.J. Smith said. “We’re underway and have had some positive results, but I won’t be excited until every draft pick is done.”

The next big rookie name to fall should be strong safety Brandon Flowers, a third-round selection from LSU. With the Chargers lack of certainty at that position, Flowers will get to challenge newcomer Atari Bigby for a starting role.

With the NFL’s new CBA setting the parameters for what drafted rookies will earn, this offseason of quick signings could be a sign of things to come.

“It is nice to have a deal with the first-rounder,” Smith said. “That player typically came in last and had some catching up to do. It’s good to know that won’t happen with Melvin, and that it shouldn’t happen much anymore.”