It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the AJ-as-a-hubris-laden-jerk meme, it really has staying power though (maybe not-so-much around here lately).
It's been a hectic off-season in the five months since John's AJ Smith Approval Rating story. We watched on in quiet, mournful, agreement as the Chargers cut a pair of team legends in LT and Jamal Williams. We were excited to learn that the weird CBA changes would help the Chargers retain some of their otherwise un-restricted top talent, only to have most of that top talent turn the process into an aggravating circus. We warned Antonio Cromartie to not let the door hit his contact-avoiding ass on the way out the door (update: he dodged it like a pro), and wept as Charlie Clipboard's flowing locks got their chance to shine in Seattle. Then there was also something about a draft and some guy who plays World of Warcraft. Most recently, AJ quietly signed all his picks with zero drama and locked up the best Tight End in football for another 5 years.
237 people voted disapprove in the AJ Smith Approval Rating vote on March 3, 2010. I'd like to hear from you guys. Do you still disapprove? How so? I've got the case for AJ Smith.
Exhibit A: Depth
- Wonko's Initial Roster Analysis. Look at the depth on this team!! Line them up 3 deep and let them compete. If you have followed this team for the past couple years and agree with Wonko's numbers, there are probably names of at least three guys in his article that you love, but will not make this roster. Everyone has a WR or DL or a LB they think could be a potential starter someday who is going to wind up getting cut. Add Shawne Merriman (done deal), Marcus McNeil (probable/hopeful), and Vincent Jackson(doubtful) to that depth chart and the cuts get painful, all the more revealing of the depth on this team.
- The 2009 season. This team got eviscerated by more than its fair share of the injury bug last season. Both our offensive and defensive lines were obliterated by injury starting with the Raiders in week 1, yet we still posted a 13-3 record against a fairly difficult schedule, earning a wildcard bye. Here is the list of players that went on the IR last year: Jamal Williams, Antawn Applewhite, Jyles Tucker, Jeromy Clary, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Scott Mruckowski, and Ryon Bingham. Other Major Injuries hit Nick Hardwick (13 games) Shawne Merriman (in and out of the lineup all season), Louis Vasquez (2 games) , LT (2 games) Kevin Burnett (5 games), Weddle (2 games), Ryan Leaf (lost season in jail for pill popping)
Exhibit B: Track Record
The San Diego Chargers are the class of the AFC West. We have won the division the last four years straight, and 5 of the last 6. The Chargers have been 46-18 over the last four years; only the Colts and Patriots have been better than that during that time. Here's to adding two more wins to our Raider domination streak this year.
Exhibit C: Consistent applied philosophy
AJ has a very firm set of principles he follows; build through the draft, build from within by rewarding your players, limit the use of free agency, and lean towards younger slightly less talented players at dramatic cost savings. He sticks to this and it works. Check out this article on the worst 10 contracts of all time. You will never see the San Diego Chargers on this kind of a list. AJ never overpays, which preserves whatever the budget (usually a salary cap but not this year) is to build and preserve the aforementioned depth. This isn't to say that AJ is cheap; witness the lucrative contracts for Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.
Exhibit D: The Draft Record
People love to call the drafting of CBD a whiff, and English redundant. I would point out that Buster has had some incredible players in front of him. English played a lot last year, and now affords AJ the luxury of sticking it to Merriman in this RFA tender funny business. This season is put up or shut up time for these two. I don't need to re hash how many pro bowlers AJ has drafted, or how many UDFAs have become legitimate NFL quality starters and contributors.
This latest draft by AJ saw a lot more wheeling and dealing than usual. I'm not sure how much of this had to do with the new three night format. AJ was moving up, down, and sideways to get the guys he had his heart set on this year, without any Beathard-like mortgaging of the future (We're actually on the plus side with an extra 2nd round pick next year).
The latest AJ Smith #1 pick is already catching 50 balls from a machine after every practice to work on his receiving skills. The future couldn't look brighter for this kid with his talent and work ethic.
Exhibit E: The firing of Marty Shottenheimer and subsequent hiring of Norv Turner
I had a lot of ancient history here, and was going to strike the whole topic except for this nugget: the thought of Marty calling the plays during the decline of LT makes me shudder.
Avenues of attack
As much as AJ prefers character guys and loathes "teh dramaz", we still have had linebackers in a disturbing variety of different court situations, a prima donna DUI suspended license flag kicking holdout WR, a DUI Nose Tackle, a stalker marrying WR, and a DB with 7 kids from 6 women in 5 states.
I think AJ is just as upset as you are about all of this. The cutting of Jamal Williams and Chris Chambers, shipping of Cro, and minimum compliance offers to VJ and Merriman show this.
AJ drafted so-and-so, and HE was a colossal bust.
Cherry picking draft misses is pretty easy, especially when the team is so successful and is consistenly slotted in the bottom half of the draft. (We should probably avoid this topic alltogether or John will start openly weeping about the loss of Gartrell Johnson)
The lack of Super Bowl appearances (let alone wins) is tantamount to failure for the amount of talent this team has.
I don't buy this. First of all, who is responsible for the "amount of talent this team has?" Secondly, our playoff woes have been a ridiculous collection of maddening injuries, incredibly bad luck, a disturbing lack of 'clutch', and some generally freak stuff. Even with all that, the playoff losses we've had have STILL been really close games. AJ can't keep the toes from breaking or the kicks from flying wide. Winning in the playoffs usually takes some playoff experience. At least we have that in spades now. I'd much rather be angsty about playoff losses than wondering if my team can crack 8-8 this year.
He cut the greatest charger of all time
As hard as it is to say, if anything, AJ gave LT one year too many. Giving him a chance to re-negotiate for one final fun at a San Diego Superbowl in a diminished role probably actually hurt the team's offense a bit. He then cut him quickly and respectfully, giving him a chance to catch on elsewhere.
Oh and just 'cause, here's the other Ryan Mathews WoW joke pic I have...