Forgetting for the moment this season, the Chargers face some big decisions over the next few years over which players to keep and whom to let go. The main pain probably won't start next year, but the year after that; and in part it depends on if the collective bargaining agreement is renewed or not. If the CBA is not renewed, the Bolts will get to keep some players an extra season at bargain prices.
Lets start off with the important contracts that expire after next season:
2008 -Igor Olshansky, Mike Goff, Darren Sproles
2009 - Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman, Philip Rivers
20010 -Stephen Cooper, Antonio Cromartie, Antonio Gates, Jamal Williams, Eric Weddle
Most seem to expect Olshansky to be a goner, while steady he has never been a game changer. Darren Sproles on the other hand is likely to find another club willing to guarantee him more touches; the club has apparently agreed to let him test the market and decide if it can afford him after that. Mike Goff has been very consistent and quite good; but does have a number of seasons under his belt now. I can see them keeping him or letting him go depending on what the draft leads to.
The really tough choices begin in 2009. The number one priority for the Chargers must be Rivers; he is really the linchpin to the offense now. After that most likely Marcus McNeil has to be the hardest player to replace. As long he stays relatively healthy, pro bowl players are tough to find at the offensive tackle position. I expect they will only keep one of the receivers, and expect it to be Vincent Jackson. The Chargers have some pretty good talent in the depth chart at receiver, Naanee or Davis will likely take over for Chambers. As much as I hate to say it, Merriman looks like 2009 will be his last season for the Bolts (2010 if the CBA isn't renewed). He clearly wants the big payday, and the recent press releases by AJ about his outside 'distractions' show that management is frustrated with all his marketing and business endeavors.
2010 also offers some difficult choices. Cromartie looked great last year, but seems to be in the midst of a sophomore slump now. With Cason behind him, depending on how much he is looking for I can see the Bolts going either way on him right now. There will be two more years to see how he develops. It is hard to picture this offense without Antonio Gates, but you have to wonder if the years and injuries aren't going to catch up with him too by 2010. I can't see resigning Jamal, if he lasts to 2010 I would fully expect him to retire before his knees just completely fall off. Weddle and Cooper also are had to place right now; Cooper I expect we will want to keep; hopefully Weddle will improve to the point where we want to keep him too.