Currently the NFL, its players, its teams and even its unofficially–affiliated websites (like Bolts From The Blue) are in a dead zone. Lawyers are currently perusing proposed CBAs while Roger Goodell, the player's union and the team owners take a break from the negotiations. The players, who for the most part have found ways to train with each other during the offseason, are probably even on some short breaks as would be the case this time of year in the weeks leading up to the official training camp.
However, the league has a semi–deadline of around July 15th, which is coming up fast. If they can reach that date, then camps will open with enough time to have a preseason and start the regular season on time. That's very well and good for getting all that training and games underway, but it leaves a large percentage of the league's players on the outside of training camps looking in as they go hunting for new contracts. It also leaves General Managers with a multitude of holes to fill and very little time to do it.
As a General Manager I see three main priorities:
Re-sign your own players
This is an extremely important priority for the Chargers. I haven't done all the research, but I get the feeling that San Diego has a few more important free agents than most other teams. I'm not going to mention which ones should be signed and which shouldn't — I've done that before and probably will again — but I just think it's extremely important to act quickly and return as much talent to the team as possible. There has been talk that there may be a window given to talk with the team's own free agents, but whatever that window is it will assuredly be short.
Sign some undrafted free agents
Training camps and preseason games need bodies and these guys are the major source for that. Normally the signing of these players is a frenzy unto its own, but this year it just multiplies the forthcoming free agent frenzy. The Chargers have been fairly successful at identifying talent in this player pool and perhaps A.J. Smith can delegate some of his GM duties to make sure the team still has all the rookies it desires.
Fill out the roster with some other team's free agents
The Chargers have a little bit of an advantage here since they don't go after high profile free agents very often. This part of the process can almost be put on the back burner until they sort out priorities 1 and 2 as well as let the other teams overpay. Plus, who knows how quickly these veterans can assimilate to a new system in a shortened offseason. It may be best to stay away from this part of free agency unless you absolutely have too.
So, I said there were 3 priorities, right? Well, there really are 4. Because it's not long after you get through the first 3 that the GM will probably have to quickly move on to trimming down the roster. Some of these guys aren't going to be Chargers very long. Maybe just a couple of weeks.
And then there's the fact that maybe you want to lock up some of next year's free agents. Forget about it! At least not during July or August. There's just not going to be the time for it. They'll have to wait and do it during the season, which normally you'd think they'd be unwilling to do. However, I believe Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers and Marcus McNeill have all had their contracts re-done during the season. So, it's certainly possible that we could see some contracts extended during the 2012 season (should it exist).
I'm kind of starting to get excited for all this. Don't let me down, NFL.