Last night, after the Chargers announced that they had (or were going to) sign Bob Sanders to a one-year deal, I ran through a gamut of emotions. So, I've decided to split my brain in two and tell you why I love and hate this Bob Sanders signing.
A playmaker! I must have wrote 10 different posts during the 2010 season about the Chargers needing a playmaker on defense, preferably at the SS position. Now, without taking much of a risk, they have one. Not only have they added a playmaker, they've added a veteran leader with a DPOY award and a Super Bowl ring to the locker room. Think the other guys on defense are going to give Bob the cold shoulder? Me neither.
I've been saying for a few weeks now that the Chargers have too many holes on their roster to fill them all through the draft. Sure, if they bring back all three ILBs (and Donald Butler), that position is probably okay … but that left OLB, DE and SS as three spots that needed new starters. Tough to do, and the Chargers don't have a great record of drafting rookies to start immediately. Now they can focus on DEs and OLBs, and I think they'll end up going with a OLB in the first round considering all the depth they have at DT (I'm certain Cam Thomas and Vaughn Martin would be at least "okay" filling that DE spot). Gaining focus in the draft, especially one lacking any real SS stars, is huge.
I know fans often go too deep into the "teaching" aspect of free agent signings, but it should at least be mentioned. With at least two guys on the team that should be learning about the SS position (Darrell Stuckey and Quentin Jammer), having Sanders around in practice and in the locker room can only help things. Even if they're just watching what he does, the reads he makes and how he manages to be a top-tier Safety with a 3rd-down-RB's body, they should be taking mental notes each day.
This almost officially makes 2011 "The Year of the Chargers Super Bowl". Which isn't to say that they're going to win it or even get there, but it certainly seems like A.J. Smith is making a run in 2011 in a way that he really hasn't in the past. A franchise tag for Vincent Jackson and now a one-year deal for a new (potentially–) starting SS. Also, the quickness in which this deal was done after O.J. Atogwe (the only other good Safety in the free agent market) signed with the Redskins told me that Smith was not comfortable with the idea of letting Steve Gregory and Stuckey fill the spot in what could be a very important year. Have no doubts, A.J. Smith never pushes all of his chips into the center of the table, but this may be the first time that he's betting instead of simply calling. Perhaps he has looked at Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and decided "If a dynasty is going to start, it has to start now."
The dumb A.J. Smith questions. I'm sorry, I try not to poke and prod "dumb fans" too often but … are you kidding me? How many times did I have to hear the "Is A.J. Smith changing his stance on big name free agents?!?" last night? Look, A.J. Smith's job is not to simply acquire talent … it's to acquire talent and balance the books at the same time. He believes (accurately) that the best way to do that is to build a team that is mostly made up of players on rookie contracts, or lesser-known guys who are playing for damn near the veteran minimum. Only occasionally will he decide that the team needs to spend big money because there's a player they can ill-afford to lose (Rivers, Gates, Marcus McNeill, etc.), and with the same regularity he'll find free agents that he believes are worth what their asking price is or more (Kevin Burnett, Antwan Barnes, etc.). If he avoids "big–name free agents", it's because those guys are either trouble (Terrell Owens), would screw up his books with huge contracts (Julius Peppers) or worth less than what they're asking for (Brandon Manumaleuna). What their name is and how well-known they are has absolutely nothing to do with if he'll sign them. This was a case of a guy that has no off-the-field problems, came cheap (and on a short deal) and is worth what he was asking for. A.J. Smith has not changed.
The one-year deal. What if he stays healthy all year, and the Chargers make it to the Super Bowl but lose. What then? Obviously, Sanders would be in line for a long-term, big money deal....and the Chargers don't give those out (see above paragraph). So the Chargers would then have to take a step back (again) at SS....and you should never take steps backwards when you're on the verge of a championship.
Bob's health, obviously, needs to be brought up. As much as it would've cost more money, potentially more than he was worth, getting O.J. Atogwe instead of Sanders would make 2011 (and beyond) seem more stable in the secondary. What the Chargers did yesterday was like this fake conversation between me and A.J. Smith:
Smith: "Darrell Stuckey and Steve Gregory are not going to cut it at SS, we need to sign Bob Sanders."
Gennaro: "Yeah, but what happens if Bob gets hurt in the first game again like he seems to do every year with the Colts?"
Smith: "Well, then we will be lucky that we have good depth at the position with Stuckey and Gregory."
You see? It's hard to swallow the idea that the Chargers signed maybe the most injury-prone starter in the NFL over the last decade and said "Okay, that position is taken care of." It's what they essentially have to do, but is having Bob Sanders in front of Stuckey/Gregory really that much better than having Stuckey/Gregory? We shall see....