A silver fox article in the paper this morning got me started on thinking about all of the personnel that may potentially be unrestricted this upcoming offseason if there is a new CBA by that time. (here is the link to the article if you didn't see it: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/nov/30/chargers-face-possible-losses/ )
There are several big names on the list of potential UFA's and many that I think the Chargers need to sign long term. There are many good points in the article linked above, and some I will reiterate, but I highly suggest you look over that article as I will mainly focus on the personnel decisions that I think should be made and not comment on the overall situation as I will defer to the silver fox for those comments.
Anyhow, here is the list of players who's contracts are up after this season (after the jump, gotcha!):
Before you ask, yes these are in order of MY priorities...which obviously are different than yours.
Tier 1 - MUST sign
1. Eric Weddle, FS: This guy doesn't get enough credit. He is the coach of the secondary, and communicates with the linebackers to coordinate coverages. He still needs to work on his ballhawking abilities (more INT's would always be nice), but this guy is always a part of the play whether it be in the run game or pass game.
2. Kevin Burnett, ILB: The player that we have seen this season is the player that Dallas was hoping they were drafting when they picked this guy in the 2nd round in 2005. This guy is a monster and he's all over the field. He's smart, athletic, and can tackle. I see this guy taking over Cooper's role next season...correct me if I'm wrong but I think he's been calling the plays for most of this season (with the radio in his helmet). If he can stay healthy this season, he is a priority signing to keep the strength that we possess in the middle of the defense.
3. Brandon Siler, ILB: He's been battling injuries this season, but the defense is unquestionably better when he is in there, especially against the run. He comes up huge in goalline situations (at least twice last season) and he is the "thumper" that you need in the middle of a 3-4 defense. Signing these top 3 guys will ensure that one of the top defenses in the NFL remains as such for years to come.
4. Mike Tolbert, RB: He is not listed in the UT article as one of the 2011 free agents but everywhere that I can find he could potentially be a RFA, which still means we need to lock him up. If he wasn't indispensable before this season, he has proven his worth this season. Locking this guy up is a must, he has shown he can shoulder the load when Mathews goes down, which unfortunately has been the case the majority of the season. Sure he's had some fumble issues, but that is correctable. He is also a good receiver out of the backfield, which is critical in this offense. He's also proven he's a good option on the red zone. Do I need to say any more? He can run, he can catch, and he can score...sign him.
5. Legedu Naanee, WR: Don't really know where to start here. He's got good size, speed, and we have all seen his versatility. Great hands, great route runner, great rapport with Rivers. He can play in the slot and he can play outside...in case you can't tell I'm big on this guy. He needs an extension.
6. Antwan Barnes, OLB:This may be a surprise to some, but the bottomline is that he is the best option at OLB opposite to Phillips on this roster, and that makes him a must to re-sign. There may be better options out there somewhere, but he's the second best OLB on the Chargers' roster and that means we need to bring him back. I have no idea how this guy was out on the street or why, but I'm glad that he was. AJ made a great choice in taking a chance on him, and needs to reward him with an extension. While I give kudos to AJ for finding this gem on the street, it's also an indictment on the disappointing development (or lack thereof) of AJ's #1 2009 draft pick, Larry English.
Tier 2 - "Would be nice" signing
7. Malcom Floyd, WR: I really like Floyd, and there's no doubt that he is one of the best jump ball receivers in the league. You may be surprised to see that I have him ranked below Naanee, but I have two concerns with Floyd: injuries and age. I think we can find a better, younger option out there in the draft. That being said, I love Floyd's size (both height and hands), and I think Rivers does too.
8. Jeromey Clary, RT: I was not a Clary fan coming into this season, but he's looked good this season. I'm not ready to say that there aren't better options out there in the draft, but AJ doesn't tend to spend many draft picks on OL, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Clary extended. He's not exactly high-profile either, so it shouldn't be too pricey to keep him.
9. Stephen Cooper, ILB: Every time I see this guy play against Peyton Manning I am reminded of what a good player he can be. He really gets up for games against Indy and it truly is amazing how well he can predict the plays that Peyton audibles to at the line. He is a HUGE reason that we are able to neutralize a potent Indianapolis offense. The problem is, he isn't really all that great in any other games that I have watched. He gets dragged by RB's and can't make the stop himself, he is slow in coverage, but he's SMART. Unfortunately, his body isn't keeping up with his mind and I think his performance is going downhill. It would be nice to re-sign this guy to keep him on the team to help develop the younger LB's and maybe play him once a year against Peyton (joking...kinda).
10. Jacques Cesaire, DE: This is another guy I was not a fan of coming into this season. He hasn't really made me eat my words, but he's been a lot better than I anticipated. That may be due to the fact that Garay has been playing out of his mind at NT, and it might be due to the fact that he's better than I thought (or both, or neither). Would be nice to bring this guy back, but I hope to see Vaughn Martin rise up to step into his spot.
11. Randy McMichael, TE: I'm torn on this one. I probably have him too high, but I'm too lazy to move him down and re-number everything. McMichael has looked good at times while stepping in for injured Gates on offense, but he's looked downright terrible on special teams. He probably wasn't used to playing ST's since he was a starting TE for so many years when he wasn't on the same roster as Gates. He's getting older, and there are lots of athletic TE's coming out of college these days that could take McMichael's spot and have more upside. However, he's shown he can step in on offense when Gates gets hurt, which is a nice thing to know, so it would be nice to have him around for another season or two until we can get a young guy in to take his spot.
12. Travis Johnson, DE: TJ just hasn't really panned out to justify his #1 pick in 2005. I'm still not quite sure what the Bolts should do with him, that's why I have him in this section. It would be nice to have him back, because he is a contributor on the defense, but only if the price is right.
13. Billy Volek, QB: The Bolts will need to find a youngster that they can develop to be PR's backup at some point, but Crompton wasn't it. He just couldn't hold that clipboard like Charlie. It isn't absolutely imperative that the Bolts bring Volek back, but he's shown that he can step in and march the team down the field, which is exactly what you want in a backup. Although, I'm fairly certain that there isn't an injury short of paralysis that could keep "El Capitan" from playing.
Tier 3 - Movin' On
14. Paul Oliver, SS: I guess I'm just not an Oliver fan. He's done okay stepping in for Gregory and made some good plays, but remember that we have Stuckey waiting in the wings. I don't think we need to bring back Oliver and actually have been carrying too many safeties and need another corner on the roster.
15. Darren Sproles, RB/KR/PR: Before you Sproles fans crucify me, I wear a #43 jersey to every Charger game. I bought that jersey before Sproles went off in the game against Indy a couple seasons back, so I am definitely more of a "Sproles-lover" more than a "Sproles-hater." Okay, now that's out of the way. Sproles has an odd fit in this offense. For some reason, every time he gets the ball it feels forced. It's pretty obvious that the defense guards against the draw play and the screen pass every time he is in the game, and that opens up more options I guess, but he has become a very expensive decoy at $7.3M. I'm gonna say that again with the zeroes: $7,300,000. The team isn't using him right, and I'm just not convinced that he fits in this offense anymore. As sad as it makes me to say, his value has been inflated, and unless he is ready to take a HUGE paycut, the team needs to move on.
16. Vincent Jackson, WR: I have a feeling we are all going to be looking back at VJ in about 10 years and laughing at what his agents squandered. I don't think that he (or his agents) realize what they have/had here in SD before they started burning bridges last offseason. He is an incredible athlete, runs great routes, attacks the ball in the air, and is great after the catch....BUT...I think he needs a great QB to succeed. He won't succeed on a team without either an elite QB or a gunslinger QB. He would have been perfect for the Vikings because he needs a QB that can either put the ball right on the spot he will be (like Rivers) or a QB that can just throw up the ball and not care who comes down with it (like Favre). It's a shame his situation turned into such a circus in SD...he and Rivers could have helped each other towards the Hall of Fame.
17. Patrick Watkins, DB: Here mainly as a ST'er...only been here a few weeks, hard to say one way or another. I think his spot will be taken by a youngster drafted next season.
18. Kelley Washington, WR: See above.
20. Dante Hughes, DB: I think the Bolts will draft another CB in the first 3 rounds next year (remember, 5 picks in the first 3 rounds).
21. Tyrone Carter, DB: See numbers 17 and 18.
So that's my breakdown, who do you guys think AJ should resign (assuming there won't be a lockout in 2011)?