On the nature of the game

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I spent most of this morning making a couple jewelry boxes to sell. I enjoy woodworking as a hobby and, after furnishing my home and giving gifts to everyone I could think of, I found that in order to keep making stuff I would have to find a market for my work. So I decided to start selling things; small stuff that I could ship easily. When I began researching the logistics of selling handmade products, I was introduced to a formula for calculating the final price of a piece:

Price = (Materials+Labor)x1.40

That's the price of materials, plus my own labor at a given hourly rate (depending on experience), plus 40 percent profit. I quickly found that any ambitions I had of making this my permanent vocation were unrealistic, to say the least. Paying myself even $10/hr, less than half of my salary at the time, my work would be prohibitively expensive. I would have to change everything about how I worked to bring prices to anything near an acceptable level, and in the process I would lose everything I enjoy about woodworking. As a somewhat idealistic, and probably naïve young man this was a shocking revelation. A business is hard to run, apparently.

What does this have to do with a football team? Football is a business. The people in charge of the teams, to say nothing of the league, are in it to make money. They may put football guys like AJ Smith in charge of the team, and are probably fans of the game, but the bottom line remains the bottom line. What I learned when exploring self-employment was that compromises must be made when running any kind of enterprise, and it's not always about the finances. It all comes back to money, of course, but the process is altered by the introduction of profit, and that process is what we as fans are interested in. We take note of the financial aspect of the game because it's supposed to affect what we see on the field, but it's the field that we really care about.

In the NFL, the ceiling that I found so low in my own life is replaced by the artificial ceiling of the salary cap. Teams can only spend so much money on their players, and they have to arrive at the right combination of organizational philosophy, staff, and luck to achieve success. The salary cap is intended to provide parity (and to keep costs down...), but some teams have had regular success while others have failed. Our beloved Chargers are closer to the losers than the winners in the tally up to this point, and the difference comes down to differences in organizational philosophy (and a lot of luck). I think the Chargers as a team have finally arrived at the right philosophy, and they'll have to make do with the staff and the luck if this team is to make us happy.

You can only control so much, you see. You can try to hire the best staff available and cover every possible hole on the roster, but in the end you're only as good as the available talent. When it comes to the staff, it's hard to know what you're going to get with a given person. The nature of the game is such that deficiencies can be hidden by other members of the staff or excellent play on the field, so you never really know if that shiny new DC is any good or if he was just lucky on that other team. So eventually, if you want to win, you have to find some people you're comfortable with at the top of the organization and let them run things. If as the owner you can't step away from the operation of the team, you end up with the Raiders of the last ten years or so. And nobody wants that.

So you have to pick your horses and let them run. Expecting to find somebody on the market who can do better than your current staff is tempting, but it's a gamble and you may end up having to rebuild the entire roster all over again, one more time. And hope that the new guys in charge are better, and luckier, and can build a better roster. And in any event you're very likely losing a year to the reorganization; that's hard to do with talented players in the prime of their careers. Do you really want to waste those years casting about for the exact perfect fit, or do you make do? You make do, or you aren't running a business that's going anywhere.

So for the next year or so we have Norv and AJ making the important football decisions for the San Diego Chargers. But I don't think that's a problem. They aren't perfect; Norv isn't Bill Belichick and AJ isn't (whoever you think is a great GM, whatever). But the team can't just start over at this point, so we build on what we have and move forward.

The Defense is getting better, and I don't care what you say about 2010; the special teams were so bad they made everything else better. The front seven are dramatically improved with the addition of Ingram and Johnson, and the growth of Liuget and Martin. Reyes will need a year. The secondary still has Weddle as the backstop; he won't get as many interceptions this year as he'll be used as more than an interception generator, but he'll be great and you'll probably hear his name a hell of a lot less. Jammer will hopefully be allowed to play his physical game, and Cason his tight man-to-man, and the corners should be fine. Gilchrist will get reps this year when somebody gets hurt, and Wright will be exposed. But the front seven will make the defense. I mean, have you seen Butler and Spikes? So good.

The offensive line is... offensive (sorry). Gaither needs to step the hell up, and he probably will because he won't get another chance after this, talent or no. Green will be good enough but a step down from Dielman. Hardwick will be his usual self, doubling with the LG and great in Pass Pro, Vasquez will continue to grow, and Clary will give up a couple sacks and people will hate him about three times more than he deserves. The end result is a unit that will give up some pressure. Rivers will have to be quick with his release (luckily he's ridiculously quick) and we can expect the backs, slot guy (be healthy Eddie), and TEs to get plenty of chances for YAC. The wide guys will get their long reps, and hopefully Meachem can add something more to the offense than a distraction for the safeties. Hopefully Rivers will have time to throw to them.

In the end, as always, it comes down to luck. I haven't even mentioned Mathews because it will take some luck to get him back at full strength and crushing the opposing D. He has to come back early and strong, or at least earlyish and fast. Meachem has to develop a rapport with Rivers. Floyd has to stay healthy. Gates has to stay healthy. The entire OL has to stay healthy, and when they don't their backups have to play well enough for Norv to gameplan around them. Ingram has to live up to expectations at least somewhat, and the rest of the defense has to take advantage of the attention he'll get. Barnes has to have another good year. Johnson has to prove he's more than a system guy. English has to just stay ******* healthy. Butler really, really has to stay healthy. Weddle has to be healthy.

They all have to be goddamn healthy. Because you can't build a deep roster at every position. We're lucky to be watching a team where there is either talent or depth at nearly every position. There are some very, very good players at thin positions and some decent players at deep positions. The two places this strategy hasn't worked out are OL, where bad luck has been rampant (Dielman and McNeill), and the secondary, which is highly sensitive to defensive changes and has suffered over the past year from poor use and lack of depth.

This should be good enough to win. AJ Smith has defined the philosophy of this team as a ground-up, in house builder. His use of free agency has been limited to useful bit players, and he has resisted the urge to find the "final piece of the puzzle" with money (which never works). Even this past year, he quietly added talent at thin positions without breaking the bank or weakening the rest of the team (and the Chargers are still within a couple million of the cap. This team is not cheap). This is the way to win at business: you make the compromises work for your own organization. If you can't do that, you don't belong in the game. Now it's down to Norv and the players to win at football. We can only hope Norv is able to get it done, and that the players do their jobs and stay healthy. Because the alternative is not a better version of this group, but a rebuild, and that's not going to make anyone happy any time soon.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Bolts From The Blue community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bolts From The Blue editors or SB Nation.

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