Both sides of the Marcus McNeill contract squabble are now firmly entrenched. The McNeill camp is saying they are ready to hold out, and they are prepared to forfeit millions of dollars in an effort to work out a long term contract. The Chargers camp is sticking to a one year contract offer and is making noise that they are ready to move on without Marcus McNeill. So, as fans I guess we have to start looking at life without our 4 year starter at left tackle.
The Chargers have been grooming a former San Diego State player who went undrafted back in 2008 named Brandyn Dombrowski. Dombrowski spent all of 2008 on the practice squad. In 2009 he filled in early in the season at RG when Louis Vazquez was hurt and Scott Mruczkowski had to replace an injured Nick Hardwick mid-game. Then, later in the season when Jeromey Clary was put on IR, he stepped up at RT holding off veteran Jon Runyan. I'm sure the Chargers would prefer to groom him more before making him a starter, but he's battle tested enough to no longer be a complete unknown.
The Chargers also have brought in a veteran for depth. William "Tra" Thomas started at left tackle for multiple playoff teams in Philadelphia and made three Pro Bowls. His last years for the Eagles were injury plagued and he was let go before the 2009 season to make way for a younger replacement. Last season he served as a backup to a rookie left tackle in Jacksonville.
This is not the worst situation to be in, however it's not a good enough situation to keep from hearing the cries of the masses. The most common refrain usually mentions how much we are paying our QB (he signed a contract extension last year in excess of $90 million) and how you must protect that investment with a top left tackle watching his blind side. But do you really?
I present to you 3 teams that all at least made their conference championship game last year: the Saints, the Colts and the Vikings. We can all agree that each team has a QB that is vital to their team's success. Drew Brees was the Super Bowl MVP and Peyton Manning and Brett Favre both have league MVP trophies on their shelves. In order for these top QBs to achieve such great success in 2009 and stay healthy they must all have top flight left tackles, right?
The Saints lost their former 1st round pick Jamaal Brown in the preseason and had to replace him with 2007 4th round pick out of Towson University Jermon Bushrod. Bushrod had never started a game in the NFL and there's not a single source I could find that was proclaiming him a future starter at left tackle. He was a virtual unknown and yet he in no way encumbered the Saints from taking home the Lombardi Trophy.
The Colts had their Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn retire in 2007 after a 10 year career in the NFL. The Colts tried to replace him with 2007 1st round pick Tony Ugoh, but he had some inconsistent performances and got hurt in 2009. The bulk of the snaps at left tackle went to 2006 6th round pick Charlie Johnson. Johnson is not going to be earning any Pro Bowl bids any time soon and there was talk that the Colts would try to draft someone to groom as a replacement this year. However, Peyton Manning still had great year on route to an AFC Championship.
After much drama the Vikings employed future hall of famer Brett Favre as their QB and rode him all the way to the NFC title game. Their starter at left tackle is 8 year veteran Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie has a fairly recognizable name due to being a high 1st round draft pick in 2002, his incredible size which led to his nickname Mt. McKinnie and his repeated Pro Bowl Honors. One of those Pro Bowl selections was for last year, but that was a complete joke. McKinnie didn't deserve that as he was almost always the weak link on the offensive line. His struggles were most noticeable in their game against Carolina where the Panther defense racked up 4 sacks and McKinnie was called for a false start and a hold. Nevertheless, the Vikings made it farther in the playoffs than all but 2 teams.
These aren't the only teams with left tackle issues. The Bengals drafted a left tackle that held out, got hurt and never really contributed so they went with a relative unknown. The Jets left tackle, D'Brickashaw Ferguson is still a work in progress in the passing game. The Cowboys released Flozell Adams after a penalty plagued season. The Packers' Chad Clifton was never 100%. This was not a year where the premier teams had premier left tackles.
That all being said, there is still the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Chargers don't necessarily need to move on from Marcus McNeill, and I'm definitely not saying they would be better off for it. I just want it to be considered that if the rest of the team is solid then the left tackle position maybe isn't the big deal that people are making it out to be.