San Diego Chargers Hot Seat: CB Antoine Cason

SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 24: Antoine Cason #20 of the San Diego Chargers looks on in disbelief after teammate Kicker Kris Brown #3 misses a field goal to tie at the end of regulation against the New England Patriots during NFL game on October 24 2010 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Let's start with the facts:

  • In 2011, Antoine Cason had 2 interceptions, defended 17 passes and made 46 tackles.
  • 2012 is the last year of both Cason's rookie contract and Quentin Jammer's current contract.
  • Cason had his best season in 2010 and — rumor has it — he struggled to form a good working relationship with Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky in 2011.
Cason, the former Jim Thorpe Award winner — an award given to be the best defensive back in college football — certainly has the physical skills to be a shutdown cornerback in the NFL. He has great speed, great hands, good instincts and is physically strong.

Issues before 2010 were mostly the result of Cason playing out of position. Antoine is more comfortable playing WRs downfield and using his speed as a safety valve that allows him to take chances to get interceptions. In 2008 and 2009, he was asked to play the Nickel corner spot and defend against guys running 5 yard routes through traffic.

The plan when Cason was drafted seemed obvious by their contracts running out at the same time. This time next year, the Chargers would like to move Cason to the #1 CB spot. Jammer is almost irrelevant in this situation as he can move to SS or #2 CB or off the team, nevermind the fact that his contract is up and he'll likely earn less money in the next one.

Word out of Chargers Park this offseason is that 2nd year CB Shareece Wright, who was on the field for 4 snaps last season, has impressed defensive coaches and could eventually turn into the starting CB that A.J. Smith thought he could be when he was taken in the 3rd round. Marcus Gilchrist had a good first year, despite not having much of an offseason, and will be knocking on the door of Cason and Jammer if they don't play well this season.

John Pagano could have a formidable secondary if all four of those guys play well this season. If Jammer and Cason play like they did under Manusky in 2011, we'll most likely see an entirely different group of CBs heading into the 2013 NFL Season.

Jammer has some leeway. He loves the Chargers and the Chargers love him back. Even if he doesn't play that well this season and whoever plays SS plays great, the team could (rightfully) talk themselves into signing Jammer to a cheap deal and turning him into a Nickel CB.

Cason is not in the same situation. He doesn't play well in the Nickel spot and he doesn't have the same relationship with the Chargers coaching staff, front office or fans. He'll have to earn his spot as a starter on this team for the third consecutive season.

This is a make-or-break season for Antoine Cason in every respect:

  • It's a contract year and his best opportunity to make big money.
  • Nobody likes having to move across the country. If Cason has a down year and signs with, I don't know...let's say the Cleveland Browns, that would not be fun.
  • Jammer's contract situation means it's Cason's best chance to move up the depth chart.
  • The Chargers fans are getting tired of Cason. He's been a starter for two seasons and has never really done anything to make them fall in love. This will be his last chance.
  • A down year in 2012 will paint Cason as a bad CB that had one lucky year, or one year where Ron Rivera made him look good. A good year will paint Cason as a good CB that was ill-fit for the Nickel and wasn't used properly by Greg Manusky.
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