As you all know, The Greg One has been one of the harshest critics of Chargers front office and coaching personnel. Where do I stand now? A week from the draft the signings have stopped and it’s time to take a quick look back at what the Chargers have (and have not) added since free agency began. I recently wrote General Manager AJ Smith has to open the checkbook and bring in young, big time players, not old past their prime men playing out their last contract. My first column of the offseason was a rant about my displeasure with the Chargers for letting Vincent Jackson leave town. Has the front office made up for it?
The Chargers first addition was Robert Meachem from New Orleans. The Greg One is a BIG fan of this kid. Meachem is a speed burner (4.39 40-yard dash) who has been buried on the Saints depth chart because of their glut of receivers. Last season he caught forty passes and six were touchdowns. Now that Meachem will be an every down receiver, expect those numbers to rise significantly with the best deep ball passer in the league throwing to him in Philip Rivers. AJ went younger (Meachem 25, Jackson 27), faster and for a player who is by all accounts a very humble, grounded player, unlike the diva Jackson was known to be. The fact that the Chargers snagged Meachem so quickly was reassuring not because they got him but because they were looking in the right place for a replacement. New Orleans. That says to me that if star receiver Marques Colston had not been re-signed prior to free agency he would be wearing lightning bolts this season. As it stands, Meachem is a fantastic consolation prize. LOVE THIS SIGNING!
The Chargers then signed Eddie Royal from the Denver Broncos. Any Charger fan who has been on the Chargers bandwagon for at least three seasons still has memories of Royal burning the Chargers repeatedly with big catches and even bigger kick returns. Like Meachem, Royal also ran a 4.39 40-yard dash. Royal is also the same age as Meachem, 25. Like Meachem, Royal was buried on the depth chart with the Broncos because of the change in offensive philosophy perpetuated by the run happy Tim Tebow. These are both great gets. Meachem signed for four years, Royal for three. This gives Philip Rivers two young, talented, proven, blazing fast receivers to grow with and compliment Antonio Gates, Vincent Brown and Malcolm Floyd. Again, looking in the right place. The Chargers took a weapon from a division rival (that will now be headed by Peyton Mannning) that is still young and ready to step up his game.
To supplement the receiver position and provide competition for the kick return duties the Chargers added Michael Spurlock from Tampa Bay and Roscoe Parrish from Buffalo with one year contracts. Both are special teams specialists who will push Richard Goodman for his job or take his job altogether. Both will probably not make the team. Nevertheless, the competition will benefit the team as a whole.
With the receiver position in hand they signed LeRon McClain from Baltimore and resigned Jacob Hester. Both are great blocking fullbacks and catch the ball well out of the backfield. McClain was a productive starting running back in Baltimore before Ray Rice became the top dog in Baltimore. McClain does have the ability to play every down and has proven it, unlike the injury prone Ryan Mathews. With a three year deal, McClain will be a great insurance policy in the backfield.
The offensive and defensive lines have also been bolstered. On defense, the biggest find could be linebacker Jarrett Johnson, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. Johnson was one of the unsung heroes of the Baltimore defense. With guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed getting all the attention, it was easy for Johnson to go unnoticed. Here’s yet another example of looking in the right place. If you want to instill a tougher, meaner attitude where better to pull from than Baltimore? Antonio Garay, Luis Castillo were resigned. On offense, linemen Jared Gaither, Nick Hardwick, Demorrio Williams, Brandon Dombrowski, Mike Windt and Mario Henderson all add much needed beef to the offensive line. Keeping Philip Rivers’ jersey clean is job one and while he didn’t get sacked a lot last season, he was hurried seemingly all game long on most sundays.
All in all, this has been an excellent offseason. AJ is still shopping in the bargain bin but he has made astute moves and resigned his own players while carefully pulling underappreciated, unused or underused talent from other teams to build his roster. This time last season the Chargers had not signed half as many players and i’ll say again I believe AJ Smith and head coach Norv Turner are on their third strike. The only way I can justify Smith and Turner still being in office is that owner Dean Spanos gave them the three strikes and you’re out edict. The Chargers have missed the playoffs by one game for two straight seasons. Those are strikes one and two. Miss the playoffs this season and both will be gone. That’s my belief and i’m sticking to it. This team is off to a great start, an A effort put out by AJ Smith who has finally opened the checkbook to and is giving guaranteed years to up and coming players, not the same old aging retreads who will sign for the veterans minimum. While this is probably a result of this undisclosed ultimatum, whatever it takes to get that fire burning works for me and i’m sure the rest of Charger Nation. For the first time since i’ve been writing for the Beat, I give AJ Smith kudos for his work this offseason. WELL DONE AJ. Still, work is not over yet. There is one more opportunity to add impact players and building blocks for the future…
About the draft….