This hashtag needs to be addressed before it takes off. I know that watching football brings out emotions and therefore you guys have emotional reactions to everything and want to keep every player that ever made you cheer. I get that.
However, I'm not going to sit on the sidelines and wait for people to start raining down criticism on A.J. Smith when Jackson inevitably signs elsewhere. It is and will be the right move to offer Jackson a fair contract and let him take someone else's over-inflated offer instead. Allow me to explain why.
I've always wondered how many people pay attention to A.J. Smith's contract lengths. He tends to line up all of the big contracts on the San Diego Chargers' roster to expire at the same time, and I'm sure there's some salary cap reasoning for this. Here's an example:
- Philip Rivers: Free Agent in 2016
- Antonio Gates: Free Agent in 2016
- Marcus McNeill: Free Agent in 2016
- Eric Weddle: Free Agent in 2016
See a trend? It's almost like A.J. is predicting that 2016 is the next time he'll need to completely revamp the team and focus on a younger core of players. This is my first reason that I don't see Vincent Jackson back on the Chargers: He's going to want a 5-7 year contract, someone out there is going to offer it to him, and A.J. Smith isn't going to see the point of having Jackson signed for seasons that Rivers and Gates aren't signed for. I believe that's the smart way of going about it.
Contract Lengths/Age (Cont.)
Staying on the contract lengths for a second. A.J. Smith prefers his team to be young. Younger teams are cheaper, they get injured less and they have something left in the tank come playoff time. Also, and this is big, young teams usually get better while old teams usually get worse rolling over from season to season.
There are certain positions where it's okay to be old. Offensive line, Tight End, and Quarterback are three roles that can be played by veterans without much risk of a huge drop-off (later in the contract) or injury. The possible exception from that group is Left Tackle, where you need to maintain your quick first step. Anyway, this is why guys like Rivers (30) and Gates (31) can still get those long-term deals.
Being an old WR doesn't really cut it. Out of the top 10 WRs in the league in 2011, only 3 were 30 or older. Those guys were Wes Welker, Steve Smith (CAR) and Roddy White. White is the biggest of the group at 6 feet even.
VJ is 6'5" and a lot of his game is built on speed, which is an odd combination. If Jackson gets a 6 year deal, 5 of those years will be after he turns 30 years old. That doesn't sound like a wise investment to me. That sounds like 3-4 years of overpaying.
The WR Market
Let's assume that the Chargers were trying to add a receiver to replace Vincent Jackson. The goal here would be to get someone that could be a #1 WR, easing the transition from Malcom Floyd to Vincent Brown (as the #2 WR) in 2013. Even if they're not ready to be a #1 in 2012, they need to have the skills to be one in 2013. Got it?
Here's what's out there on the free agent market that might work:
- Reggie Wayne: 33 years old, but coming off a great season without a decent QB
- DeSean Jackson: 25 years old, a bit of a headcase, can't stay healthy
- Marques Colston: 28 years old, not much different from Jackson's situation but less expensive
- Brandon Lloyd: 30 years old, unsure if he's going to be good consistently
- Robert Meachem: 27 years old, might not be a #1
That's not a great list. I have issues with all of those guys. At least with Reggie Wayne you could maybe count on him to be a #1 for the next two seasons, but he'd make the offense less explosive (downfield) than it is with VJ now. That'd be the only guy that I'd be really happy to pick up, although DeSean Jackson would be awfully exciting.
Does the draft have anything good to offer?
- Justin Blackmon: Don't worry about learning his name, the Chargers have no chance at him
- Kendall Wright: Baylor, Doesn't really fit the system because he's only 5'10" but he's a deep threat
- Michael Floyd: Notre Dame, Been compared to Dwayne Bowe but is a bit of a headcase and injury-prone
- Mohamed Sanu: Rutgers, Imagine Vincent Jackson with less speed
Again, not a great list. However, this group is very cheap. If the Chargers are planning to replace Malcom Floyd in 2013 — and they should based on his injury troubles alone — they can sign Reggie Wayne to a short deal (2-3 years?) and draft one of these guys with their first pick. In 2013 that leaves you with Brown, Wayne and the aforementioned rookie as your WR group and soon after that you have a pair of young starting WRs with Brown and the rookie. Not awful.
The key is to realize that there's a much better chance at finding a solid WR in the first round of the draft that can contribute by 2013 than there is of finding a pass-rusher that can contribute in 2012.
The Chargers do not need a dominant top-ten WR. I'm sorry, many will disagree with that, but they don't. With Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and a group of soft-handed RBs, the ball will move.
But what about our "big play" threat? In 2011, San Diego was 17th in the league in passing plays of more than 40 yards with just 8 of them; Vincent Jackson had 4 of those. In 2010, the Chargers were 2nd in the league with 15 passing plays of 40+ yards; Jackson had just 1 of those. In 2009, they were ranked 6th with 13 of those big passing plays; Jackson had 4 of them. Here's how those passing offenses ranked by passing yards per attempt:
- 2011: 6th
- 2010: 1st
- 2009: 1st
What does all of this mean? It means that the offense doesn't change based on whether or not Vincent Jackson is a part of it. There aren't any more big plays because he's out there. The offense runs better or worse depending almost entirely on the offensive line, dictating whether or not they can give Rivers time to effectively throw the ball and whether or not the running game can get going. Vincent Jackson does almost nothing to affect either of those things.
Knowing that, and knowing how the Chargers defense has been lacking in a pass-rush, the Chargers team needs should be ranked as such (depending on what happens with certain team free-agents):
- A dominant pass-rusher
- An offensive lineman (or linemen) (re-sign or replace Kris Dielman and/or Marcus McNeill)
- A starting WR (re-sign or replace Vincent Jackson)
- Fullback (re-sign or replace Jacob Hester and/or Mike Tolbert)
- A starting Strong Safety (re-sign or replace Steve Gregory)
- Nose Tackle (re-sign or replace Antonio Garay)
- Running Back (re-sign or replace Mike Tolbert)