|NFL DRAFT: Playoff-challenged Chargers look to add even more talent|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 26 April 2007 21:48|
Well, sort of.
Not quite four months after a playoff pratfall ruined the San Diego Chargers' Super Bowl plans, general manager A.J. Smith gets another chance to add to what is generally considered the NFL's most talented roster.
Smith has had phenomenal drafts the last three years. His run started with the strong-arming of the New York Giants in 2004, when he dealt Eli Manning for Philip Rivers and the picks he would use for kicker Nate Kaeding later in that draft and for outside linebacker Shawne Merriman in 2005. It continued last year when he used a second-round pick on Marcus McNeill, who started at left tackle and made the Pro Bowl.
Smith will no doubt pick some standout players this year, too, to join a team that featured 11 Pro Bowlers and five All-Pros last year.
It's just that there's something missing. The Chargers own the 30th pick in the first round of this weekend's draft, earned by finishing an NFL-best 14-2. Teams drafting that low normally are coming off some kind of playoff success.
Not the Chargers. A mystifying collapse in a 24-21 loss to New England in their playoff opener extended the Chargers' postseason drought to 0-4 over 12 seasons.
Two of those losses have been during Smith's watch, something the GM isn't happy about.
``We do the best we can,'' Smith said of his draft strategy. ``So far we're pretty happy with the group we've had in the last few years. We've come pretty far pretty fast, but we're not there. We're 0-2 in the playoffs. That doesn't bode well. We'll see what happens this year.''
The Chargers' offseason has been marked mostly by deletions. While the roster is made up almost entirely of players obtained by Smith since 2003, the guy generally blamed for the playoff stumbles, Marty Schottenheimer, was fired because of what team president Dean Spanos called a ``dysfunctional relationship'' between the coach and GM. Norv Turner is the new coach.
A number of veterans were cut, including three players who accounted for five of eight arrests that embarrassed the franchise.
With the exception of re-signing left guard Kris Dielman, the Chargers have been dormant in free agency.
Now it's time for some additions. The Chargers need help at safety, wide receiver and linebacker.
``Everybody is talking about those positions. I have no idea which way it will go. We're thin there. That's valid,'' Smith said.
What order they take care of those needs could hinge on whether they trade restricted free agent Michael Turner, the talented backup to league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, and possibly move up in the first round.
No team signed Turner to an offer sheet by last week's deadline, perhaps scared off by the steep price of losing a first- and third-round draft pick had the Chargers not countered. So Turner signed a one-year tender with the team, but still can be dealt.
With Turner's value to the Chargers at its highest, Smith is still hoping to pry first- and third-round picks out of suitors, either this year or next.
As the draft approached, Smith said teams have offered ``less than I would like'' for Turner, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry last year in spelling Tomlinson.
The teams showing the most interest, Buffalo and Tennessee, pick 12th and 19th.
If Turner remains a Charger, he can walk away as an unrestricted free agent after next season and the Chargers will get only a compensatory draft pick.
If the Chargers trade him, they'd most likely need to draft a running back.
Whatever happens, Smith will have a group of four or five players ready to chose from for his first pick. That ``cluster'' could include safeties Michael Griffin of Texas or Reggie Nelson of Florida, if he's still around; wide receivers Robert Meacham of Tennessee or Steve Smith of USC; or linebacker Paul Posluszny of Penn State, if he's still there.
If Miami safety Brandon Meriweather is still around, his selection could raise eyebrows because he was suspended for one game last year for stomping on Florida International players during a brawl. He was also involved in a shooting when he fired a licensed handgun to defend a friend and teammate who'd been shot.
Strong safety Terrence Kiel, arrested twice last season, was among those cut. Smith could have picked safety Troy Polamalu in the 2003 draft, but gave up the 15th pick to Philadelphia for the 30th pick - used on cornerback Sammy Davis, who turned out to be a bust - and a second-rounder he spent on Kiel.
San Diego needs a receiver because there's no go-to guy among its undistinguished corps. Keenan McCardell was cut after his production dropped.
That said, the Chargers haven't had a wide receiver lead them in catches since Curtis Conway in 2001. Since then, either Tomlinson or All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates has had the most catches.
Merriman and fellow outside linebacker Shaun Phillips anchor a formidable pass rush, but depth is an issue. Outside linebacker Steve Foley was shot three times by an off-duty policeman on Sept. 3, missed the season and might never play again. The Chargers cut him in late February.
Inside linebacker Donnie Edwards, who had a team-high 170 tackles, angered Smith with repeated requests for a contract extension and was allowed to leave for division rival Kansas City.