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2011 Chargers Offseason: The Unrestricted Free Agents

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
Getty Images

A few days I wrote about 2011 Chargers Offseason: Impending Free Agencies and covered when every Charger would become a free agent. To expand on that, let's look at at the Chargers that are guaranteed to be unrestricted free agents in 2011.

Free Agent Age Analysis Conclusion
Kevin Burnett 29 in Dec. In my mind Kevin Burnett has shown that he can be a leader on this team. He can make big plays, win matchups, play in coverage and rush the quarterback. He's still quick and agile and maybe he's finally learning how to stay healthy. Other teams, especially ones trying to rebuild a linebacking corps, are going to see this as well. I don't want to get in a bidding war with another team over him, but I'd like to offer him a multiyear deal at market rate. Most likely some team more desperate than the Chargers will try to top that, but hopefully his desire to win will keep him here. The key here is to keep from lowballing him while also protecting the team from paying a lot of money to a player who had one healthy season and may never repeat that. Attempt to re-sign.
Jacques Cesaire 30 in Aug. Cesaire was a de-facto starter in 2010, but most familiar with the team know that they've wanted someone better for years. They had Igor Olshansky to fill that role for a while and later made attempts with Travis Johnson and Vaughn Martin to try to force Cesaire to a reserve role. However, the guy is scrappy and what he lacks in ideal size he makes up for with heart, determination and experience. I'd like him back, but probably to just a 1 year deal. Re-sign cheaply.
Stephen Cooper 32 in June Cooper's time in San Diego may have run its course. He is a leader and a heady player on the field. However, at age 32 he's one of the older players on the roster and he's lost a step here and there. He's also been more injury-prone in recent years and that takes its toll on his play. Hopefully, another team (like Carolina) will see his experience and offer him a nice contract so it'll feel like the parting had mutual benefit. Do not offer contract.
Vincent Jackson Just turned 28 I think it's safe to say that we all know Vincent Jackson wants to get paid. Last year he threw away millions in a an effort to try to get more millions. There seemed to be some hostility in those negotiations, but Vincent never showed that in the press. He's said multiple times that he'd love to come back to the Chargers. He's a top tier talent, makes everyone else's job on offense easier and he's been as healthy as you can expect from a football player. You can't overlook his past off-the-field transgressions, but starting another season without him is an unsavory prospect. The easiest road to take that also offers smallest risk to the Chargers while at the same time helping Jackson's bank account is to place the franchise tag on him and hope he signs the tender. Franchise tag.

Free Agent Age Analysis Conclusion
Travis Johnson 29 in April I've heard people that report on injuries say that "health is a skill". Travis Johnson does not possess that skill. At one point he was a first round draft pick by the Houston Texans, but I think that injuries have now sapped his ability to realize that sort of talent. He's okay guy to have around for depth at the position, but not someone you make a priority. He's a lower priority than Cesaire, but if the Chargers need depth they could try to bring him back for a small chunk of change. Do not offer contract.
Randy McMichael 32 in June McMichael used to be a starter in this league and he showed that some of those skills remain when he stepped in for an injured Antonio Gates halfway through the season. He's familiar with the offense, he can block, run routes and at this point in his career is probably content in a reserve role. However, the team already has Kris Wilson under contract and could stand to find a young TE to work as an understudy to Gates. Or, they could potentially sign a free agent TE that also has starting experience and is a little bit younger. Still, I say the team gives McMichael a 1 year or 2 year small deal and wait until 2012 to get younger at the position. Attempt to re-sign.
Brandon Moore Just turned 32 Moore was signed off the scrap heap late in the season because of injuries creating holes on the roster. He was experienced and could play special teams. With the roster being healthier to start next season than it was finishing last season, there will be no room for him. Do not offer contract.
Scott Mruczkowski 29 in April The Chargers have spent a lot of time and effort into developing "Mooch". He was an asset in 2009 when he held down the Center position while Nick Hardwick recovered from injury. It'd be a shame to see him go when you know he's a capable back-up. I'm thinking the Chargers should lock him up for a couple of years with pay commensurate with a reserve Center. I have to wonder that if not for the CBA uncertainty that the Bolts brass would have done this already. Or maybe this is a calculated exit strategy to replace a once cheap player with another cheaper, younger version. There's also a chance that some team could see him as a short term answer as their starting Center in 2012, but that's no reason to deter the Chargers from making an offer. Attempt to re-sign.
Darren Sproles 28 in June There is absolutely no reason the Chargers should bring back Sproles. The team franchised him the last two years and paid him handsomely because they were afraid of what would happen if he wasn't on the roster. At one point this was defensible because he was above average kick returner, a decent change-of-pace running back and good in pass protection. However, now his skills have diminished in all those areas to the point where it's not worth paying him veteran wages. The team needs to get a younger version that can be a kick returner and has some potential to help in the running game. Do not offer contract.
Billy Volek 35 in April Volek is an interesting case. He's now two years removed from the last time he got any decent playing time in the NFL and it's hard to say whether or not he's still a useful backup. On the other hand, the Chargers have not developed a replacement and finding a quality, experienced backup QB could be pricey and the new guy would not know the offense as well as Billy does. However, it's also worth noting that Philip Rivers' backups don't see the field much so you may never see the downside of rolling the dice on a new guy. I say roll the dice, find a Volek replacement that's younger and can remain a Charger for multiple years. Do not offer contract.
Kelley Washington 29 in Dec. In case you didn't notice, the Chargers special teams need all the help they can get. They got some of that last year when they signed Washington. Sure, he has a bit of an attitude, but for the most part it isn't anything that hurts the team. Last year, he didn't make a roster out of training camp, so it's likely that he could return cheaply. I say do it and let training camp and preseason decide whether you continue to keep him around. Re-sign cheaply.