Vincent Jackson had his game face on against the Jets. Photo from Chargers.com

Free Agency Priorities 2010

The beginning of free agency transactions is looming. March 5th is just around the corner and there are some key names to watch in the Chargers lineup. Today we are going to take a look at each potential free agent in San Diego and see if we can get a good picture of what is going to happen. Obviously, the Chargers have never been a team to spend large amounts of money on game changing free agents. This year, that means practically nothing. Before the Chargers take a good look at ANY free agent acquisitions, they need to lock up some key starters and decide who stays and who goes. And with this years free agent pool as diminished as it is, retaining key starters is even more important than new prospects.
 
Lets take a look at the key players first and then work our way down.
 
Vincent Jackson #83 (WR)-Obviously the most important name on the list. The only other person on the team that had more receptions than Jackson in the regular season was Antonio Gates. Both eclipsed well over 1,000 yards receiving this year and are essential to this offense. Jackson is coming off of a Pro Bowl season with 1,167 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns, and a wonderful 17.2 yards per reception in the regular season. Jackson can NOT be lost to free agency. He is new contract priority #1.

 
Marcus McNeil #73 (OT)- Almost as important as Jackson as far as this list goes. McNeil has been very durable and reliable, starting all 16 games this year, and has been essential to the protection of Phillip Rivers. He has fantastic size at 6’7″ tall and 336 pounds. He is very mobile as a pulling tackle and constantly keeps his head on a swivel. Oh yeah, and did I mention that McNeil is only 26 years old? He needs to be locked down for at least the next few years. He is new contract priority #2.

 
Shawne Merriman #56 (LOLB)- A cornerstone for the defense. Even though he had only 36 tackles this year, his pass rushing presence shows potential for excellence, however inconsistent he has been at times. He is the face of the Chargers defense and his intensity says it all. You guessed it, he’s new contract priority #3.

Malcolm Floyd #80 (WR)-Another key piece to the Phillip Rivers’ receiving corps and to San Diego success. He is a great compliment to Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates and a shoo-in for priority #4. He caught 45 passes for a total of 776 yards and was fumble free all season. Throw in a receiving average that mirrors Vincent Jackson at 17.2 yards per reception and you have a dominating stable of receiving targets for Rivers to throw to.

Darren Sproles #43 (RB)-A lot of people will probably give me at least a little crap for not putting him higher on the list, but the fact is that he only had 343 yards rushing and 93 carries this season. He makes up for his rushing inconsistency by showing some receiving skills, he had 45 catches for 497 yards, but as a running back he doesn’t make a good case for being the successor to L.T. If anything, he just takes yards and carries away from Tomlinson. It’s easy to argue that if L.T. got all of Sproles‘ carries then he would have had another 1,000 yard rushing season. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great weapon to have around and is very versatile, but I firmly believe that if L.T. stays then Sproles might need to go in order to make everybody happy and restore balance to the running game.

Kassim Osgood #81 (WR)-Osgood is a special teams jewel for San Diego. However, he wants the opportunity to be a receiver. Lets face it folks, as long as Jackson, Gates, and Floyd are around and healthy then Osgood won’t see a lot of passes with the Chargers. Perhaps he will get his chance on another team. He is unrestricted, so don’t be surprised if he moves.

Other unrestricted free agents:

Tight Ends- Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson.

Final Verdict- Neither has been particularly productive in the receiving game. San Diego can live without one of them. If they even keep one of them, it will be the bigger Manumaleuna. He is a decent blocker and shows the potential for improvement.

Defensive Linemen- Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone.

Final Verdict- Ian Scott should be commended for stepping up like he did when Jamal Williams went down, but neither he or Boone were particularly effective. All they did was make the Chargers lack of depth in the trenches appear minimal and rushing defense stayed dismal for the remainder of the season.

Offensive Tackle- Jon Runyan.

Final Verdict- A good mentor for younger linemen with a proven track record and some Pro Bowl caliber experience. It would be nice to see what he could do at right tackle if he gets the chance to stick around and the time to really learn the Chargers offense.

Center- Dennis Norman

Final Verdict- Not much can be said about Norman, but depth at center is nice to have. I think that in remembering Nick Hardwick’s early injury woes this past season make that stand out. Even so, he still might not be retained for another year. He is 30 years old, but has good size and strength. Even so, he is not particularly important enough to the Chargers for them to fight over him.

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