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Obvious Answers: Low on Questions

Come on guys!  I asked for questions for the mailbag and I got....two.  I guess that means it's a short one this week.  I'll try this one more time next week, but if the turnout is the same I'll bail on this idea all together.

Why in the hell does Clinton Hart still have a job? - sdsuaztec4

Easy.  Clinton played the role as special teams player and "effort guy" as a backup safety for 3 years with the Chargers.  When he finally got a chance to start, in 2007, he shined.  Five interceptions, one sack, nine passes defensed and eighty-five tackles.  Sure, in 2008 his numbers and performance went down, but how much of that should be attributed to the injuries he was fighting through, the poor ILB play (Wilhelm/Smith/Dobbins) and the complete lack of a pass-rush until the later part of the season?

If we're benching everybody who had a poor 2008, Luis Castillo and Antonio Cromartie can take a seat as well.  The case with each of these guys is the same: they have proven that they can play at a high level when healthy and in the right scenario.  Is Clinton Hart healthy and in a defense that can rush the quarterback and give him some help in coverage?  It certainly seems that way, even though it's only preseason.  However, if the team had 100% faith in him as their starter at Strong Safety he wouldn't be sharing time with Steve Gregory and the Chargers wouldn't have drafted Ellison.

In summary, everyone with the exception of Quentin Jammer on the defense had at least one bad stretch of the season last year.  Clinton Hart cannot be named the scape goat just because he had the worst year of any of the defensive starters.

Why doesn't AJ ever try and sign older free agent veterans to one year deals so that they could serve as leaders and help win a SB? The Bolts had SB caliber teams the last few years, but they always seem to be missing a piece or two. I don't understand the NFL salary cap well, but I'm equally puzzled why the Bolts can't pick up a decent veteran RT or DE. Why do they rely on J. Clary or R. Bingham (who both appear to be career backups) to start as opposed to picking up a decent veteran? - garrett1230

First off, Jacques Cesaire will be starting at DE instead of Bingham.

Secondly, I can't pretend to know what runs through A.J. Smith's mind....but I can tell you why I agree with his method of building a good football team.  It's going to be detailed though....

Free agents are expensive.  If you can find one that is willing to sign for a one year deal and for the league minimum, that means that no other team in the league sees any value in the player and he's probably not worth the league minimum (which is still higher than what most players make while playing out their rookie deals).  So in building the Chargers, A.J. Smith tries to find players that are of equal or greater talent than what he'd find in a free agent and then he saves money by having them on rookie deals.  If every player on the roster was playing on their second contract, the team would have no money for backups.

Leadership comes from within.  Do you really think the Vikings offensive players are going to look for Favre to be their leader this year?  Heck no.  The players that become clubhouse and "on-the-field" leaders are the ones that have been with the team for years, in the trenches with every guy on the field.  The leaders on the Chargers are LaDainian Tomlinson (running backs), Kris Dielman (offensive linemen), Philip Rivers (offense in general), Jamal Williams (defensive linemen), Shawne Merriman (linebackers, although Cooper filled the role last year), Quentin Jammer (secondary) and Kassim Osgood (special teams). 

If the Chargers signed Jon Runyan to play in place of Clary, do you really think he'd step into Dielman's spot as the leader of the line?  While you could argue that Runyan may produce better at RT, he would be expensive and would toy with the chemistry of the line.  This is why teams that buy free agents, like Washington and Dallas, never seem to have consistent chemistry.

The kids are better.  I get it, nobody likes Jeromey Clary.  Even I'll admit that he could use some refining on his footwork.  With that being said, A.J. Smith's history with letting free agents go says that most of the time the younger, cheaper replacement is just as good if not better than the guy that's leaving (or the guy left unsigned).  Let me show you the league's most talented roster, and you try and tell me that mistakes have been made in building it.

  • Philip Rivers (drafted)
  • LaDainian Tomlinson (drafted)
  • Jacob Hester (drafted)
  • Antonio Gates (signed as undrafted free agent)
  • Vincent Jackson (drafted)
  • Chris Chambers (traded for)
  • Marcus McNeill (drafted)
  • Kris Dielman (signed as undrafted free agent)
  • Nick Hardwick (drafted)
  • Kynan Forney (signed as free agent) / Louis Vasquez (drafted)
  • Jeromey Clary (drafted)
  • Jacques Cesaire (signed as UDFA)
  • Jamal Williams (drafted)
  • Luis Castillo (drafted)
  • Shawne Merriman (drafted)
  • Shaun Phillips (drafted)
  • Stephen Cooper (signed as UDFA)
  • Kevin Burnett (signed as free agent)
  • Antonio Cromartie (drafted)
  • Quentin Jammer (drafted)
  • Eric Weddle (drafted)
  • Clinton Hart (claimed off waivers)
  • Nate Kaeding (drafted)
  • Mike Scifres (drafted)

What has been missing from this team is not veterans signed to one-year contracts, but it's been health.  In 2007, it was the health of Rivers, LT and Gates that killed the team's SB chances.  In 2008, it was the health of LT and Merriman that stopped them. 

In 2009, A.J. Smith identified Kevin Burnett as someone who was worth the free agent money because the team didn't have any players that could step into the ILB spot and provide the same impact, so he signed him.  Chargers fans should be thankful that the GM of their favorite team picks his spots with free agents, to build talent and leadership from within rather than trying to build a team that's great one year and poor the next.  This team, because of the focus on the draft and young players, is built to be a title contender for at least another five years.

As for Clary, who you referred to as a career backup.  Many people thought the same thing about Stephen Cooper, even after seeing him play.  These guys have the physical gifts (in Clary's case, he has great size and strength to go with good speed and good use of his hands), but they need time on the field to mature and get better at their position.  You won't see the 2008 Clary out there with the team in 2009.  The common phrase used is "Don't judge a book by it's cover", but in the case of young players in the NFL it's more like "Don't judge a book by it's first chapter."

Do you have any questions for next week's mailbag?  Don't hesitate to e-mail me directly with your question and I'll make sure to answer it before next Friday's game.