Chances are, you've heard of Sports Illustrated columnist - and occasional guest on Showtime's Inside the NFL - Peter King. You may also know he does a weekly column in Sports Illustrated and SI.com called Monday Morning Quarterback. What you may not know is that every year, Peter King spends a month traveling around the league and spending a day at each team's training camp. Then in each edition of Monday Morning QB, he'll report back on each of his training camp visits.
The San Diego Chargers had the pleasure of hosting Peter King at their training camp this past Thursday. Murphy Canyon was King's second stop in his nationwide tour this year.
If there's been one key narrative about the San Diego Chargers this year it's been this: playoffs or bust. According to the media - both local and national - much is riding on whether or not the Chargers can make it into the playoffs this year. At the top of that list: job security for General Manager AJ Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner.
Peter King's training camp report is no different as it focuses on AJ Smith and the Chargers' recent lack of playoff appearances. You can take it as good news or something the General Manager of an NFL team should already know, but AJ Smith is not oblivious to what needs to happen this year:
We have lost our respect in the league and our credibility in the league. We were an elite team. You miss one year in the playoffs? OK. You miss two? You deserve everything that's being said about you.
Okay, that's exactly what everyone in the media has been saying for the last 8 months. In fact, the overwhelming majority of coverage about the San Diego Chargers over the last 6 seasons has been about how they constantly underachieve. How can a team loaded with so much talent perform so poorly?
You can point to numerous reasons why the Chargers continue to disappoint: injuries, boneheaded mistakes, poor discipline, poor coaching, bad personnel moves, bad drafting. Pretty much anything that can go wrong with a football team has gone wrong on the Chargers the last 6 seasons.
The road to the playoffs isn't getting any easier, either. The Chargers have benefited from playing in a relatively weak division, but that's changed in the last few seasons. The Denver Broncos won 8 games last season with Tim Tebow at the helm; now they have Peyton Manning under center. Kansas City was decimated (EDITOR'S NOTE: a full 1/10 of them were in fact killed) by injuries to key players on both sides of the ball and still managed to go 7-9; now they get those key players back this season. Even the Oakland Raiders came within one game of winning the division last year.
King talked to several veteran players on the Chargers and they were all in agreement with what AJ Smith had to say:
"Amen,'' said center Nick Hardwick.
"It's the truth,'' said tight end Antonio Gates. "It's not acceptable, not negotiable.''
"That's the mentality we have right now,'' said Philip Rivers. "Not being in the playoffs the last two years, we've developed that feeling, and our feeling right now is we've had enough. We have a little edge about us now. But, you know, you've just got to go out and do it."
We've heard this talk before, haven't we? Wasn't it just last year that the team was talking about being hungry for the playoffs and there was a fire lit under them? That talk really got them far.
What a lot of people fail to realize, especially fans and the media, is that AJ Smith is the architect of the successful teams we all came to enjoy. But since the 2008 AFC Championship game when the Chargers were within 10 points of a Super Bowl appearance, the team has seen diminishing returns.
Yes, AJ Smith has been successful in building an era of exciting Chargers football these last 10 years. But in the "what have you done for me lately?" nature of the NFL, 2 seasons of missing the playoffs is enough to seriously put your job on the line. AJ Smith knows that, as made obvious by his recent statements to the media and his actions this off-season. On paper, this looks to have been a successful offseason with key free-agent signings and what appears to be a solid draft.
However, even if proven successful, the Chargers' activity in Free Agency this year was a bit uncharacteristic of a General Manager who prefers to build teams through the draft with cheap controllable talent. Smith being active in Free Agency this year serves to highlight his recent missteps in the draft and his mishandling of player contracts. It just goes to show he's trying to correct his mistakes and fill in the gaps he created in the first place.
As the saying goes, "winning cures all." AJ Smith knows this, and is smartly doing everything he thinks will make that happen. For the sake of his own job security, and the sanity of Chargers fans everywhere, let's hope AJ Smith's off-season moves result in the on-the-field success for which everyone has been pining.