AFC West: San Diego Chargers
Player: ILB Donald Butler
Reason for optimism: At 6-1 and 242 pounds, Butler is fast (4.62-second, 40-yard time at his pro day) and strong (35 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds). The University of Washington product also has a nose for the football and has the potential to develop into the long-term leader for defensive coordinator John Pagano's unit. But Butler has to perform in 2014 and beyond as he did in the postseason, when he led the Chargers in tackles with 18 and also forced a fumble.
Reason for concern: Can Butler finally stay healthy and develop into a playmaker on defense? After he signed the long-term deal, Butler said as much, stating that improving his durability was a priority during the offseason. Butler missed 24 of a possible 64 games in his four-year career with the Chargers, including four games each in the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of a similar groin injury. Butler has not always played at a high level week in, week out. He needs to perform as he did during the 2013 playoffs on a more consistent basis.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is available at ESPN Insider, and his selection for the Chargers is somewhat of a surprise.
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You can listen to the conversation here.
Fabiani confirmed an earlier report by U-T San Diego that representatives from the Chargers will hold their first face-to-face meeting with staff members from San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer's office on Wednesday.
“It’s nothing monumental,” Fabiani said. “It’s the process that will continue as we discuss alternatives. What we really hope -- and I think it’s what all of us hope for the city -- is that this mayor stays around for a while. We’ve had seven mayors here in the last 10 years, and we’ve never been able to gather any momentum.”
The Chargers propose to build a football-only facility downtown, to the east of Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres), that could seat as many as 70,000 for Super Bowls. The cost is projected to be from $800 million to $900 million.
Funding for the stadium would include contributions from the Spanos family and the NFL, along with selling and developing 166 acres of city-owned property that Qualcomm Stadium sits on, and another 100 acres of city-owned property that houses the San Diego Sports Arena, for the city's contribution.
Selling off the parcels of land could generate the city's financial contribution to the project without raising taxes, while creating new tax revenue from the development of the land.
Although a downtown location is preferred, Fabiani said the team is open to considering other locations for the project, including the Qualcomm Stadium site.
“We’ve gone into these discussions with the new mayor with a completely open mind,” Fabiani said. “In other words, if there’s a solution we haven’t thought of in the last 12 years, we are very willing to consider it. We don’t have any preconceptions. Obviously, having worked on it for 12 years, we feel like we know a lot about the options.
“But if we could find something that worked downtown, there would be a lot going for that. If we could find something that worked at the Qualcomm site, I think we would be happy with that, too. Our view is we’re open-minded, and we’re willing to consider all ideas.”
That said, Fabiani detailed the attraction of being located downtown next to Petco Park.
“One of the real attractions to downtown is the ability to create a sports and entertainment district that would really be unrivaled in this country,” Fabiani said. “I mean, you look at Staples Center in Los Angeles and L.A. Live, and what they’ve been able to do just with one arena there, creating a real vibrant part of downtown. Imagine if you had the convention center, the football stadium and the baseball park all within one another. ... It would be one of the great locations in the country to come have fun and see an entertainment event. It would be fantastic.”
The Chargers could seek a citywide special election as early as June 2015 for approval of a replacement for Qualcomm, which was built in 1967. However, Fabiani acknowledged a more realistic time frame for voters to weigh in on the project could be February 2016 in a less costly presidential primary.
“We’ve always said that whatever happens has to be voted on by the people,” Fabiani said. “That this should not be something that gets negotiated somewhere else and gets forced on the people. The people should have a right to vote for it. Now when that vote happens, that’s an open question.
“I know that next year, 2015, has been talked about. We’ve talked about it. The problem is that would be a special election, and that means it would be a low-turnout election. You wouldn’t get the same high number of voters that you would in a governors’ race or presidential race. And that’s really not good for a program like we’re proposing, an ambitious construction project like this.”
Fabiani said the team would like to structure the ballot measure so voters throughout San Diego County can weigh in on the project.
Fabiani also confirmed that the main goal for the Spanos family remains keeping the Chargers in San Diego.
“Just look at what they’ve done in the last 12 years -- the amount of money they’ve spent and the amount of aggravation they’ve gone through and the frustration we’ve all experienced,” Fabiani said. “But they’ve stuck with it.
“Again, ultimately this is a business. This is a team that people expect to succeed. They expect us to put the best players on the field. They expect us to spend up to the salary cap every year. And ultimately you have to protect the economics of your business. But Dean [Spanos] and his family have shown tremendous commitment to San Diego, and tremendous commitment to get this done.”
Fourth-year pro Shareece Wright emerged as a solid player in his first full season as a starter, but San Diego needs to find the long-term answer at the opposite corner position. Ineffective starter Derek Cox was released during the offseason, and signed a one-year, prove-it deal with Minnesota.
Chargers cornerback depth: Starters -- LCB Marshall, RCB Wright. Reserves -- Brandon Ghee, Crezdon Butler, Marcus Cromartie, Steve Williams, Brandon Jones
What’s your evaluation of San Diego’s talent level at cornerback?
Williamson: “They don’t seem to put a premium at the position because they don’t ask them to mirror guys across the field like Deion Sanders,” Williamson said.
Williamson likes Ghee’s potential, but has concerns with his injury history. Like a lot of San Diego’s positions on defense, Williamson says the Chargers need to improve the overall depth and talent level at cornerback.
“I do think an advanced pass rush certainly would help,” Williamson said. “Dwight Freeney still has something in the tank. And I’m high on Melvin Ingram.
“It is a need. I’m not sure I could come up with six or seven teams that are worse off at corner right now than San Diego.”
What do they need to accomplish this offseason to improve?
Williamson: Perhaps not in the first round, but in the first couple rounds Williamson believes the Chargers need to select a cornerback who can come in and play right away.
He mentions Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and TCU’s Jason Verrett as cornerback possibilities at the end of the first round.
“I kind of look at the Chargers and think in Round 1, take the best defensive player or receiver, or guard in Round 1,” Williamson said. “Take whoever is your best guy, and do not say ‘We have to take a corner’ there. And fill the other spots pretty quickly.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has other ideas.
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From a scale of low to high interest, I rated the San Diego Chargers’ level of interest in Jackson at a medium. The Chargers are in need of a playmaking receiver who can also help in the return game, so Jackson’s a fit in terms of a skill set.
He has some familiarity with fellow Cal receiver Keenan Allen, and would be close to his native Los Angeles by joining the Chargers. But ultimately I do not see Jackson signing with the Chargers for a couple of different reasons.
Too risky: Whether or not you believe the report by NJ.com of Jackson’s alleged gang ties, any NFL front office has to perform their due diligence to make sure the player is a good fit in the locker room and with the organization. Jackson vehemently denied he has gang affiliations in a statement released on Friday. General manager Tom Telesco, along with the Chargers organization, is pretty conservative in their approach to player acquisition and what types of people they sign. I would be surprised if Telesco is willing to take a leap of faith on Jackson, having no personnel relationship with the player. Teams like Kansas City and the New York Jets, who have coaches that have worked with Jackson in the NFL, make more sense.
Too expensive: Jackson likely will command between $6-7 million a year to secure his services – and I don’t think the Chargers want to spend that much on a veteran receiver. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers have $3.7 million in salary-cap space. The team still has to sign draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents, along with leaving enough money to sign guys during the regular season to replace players placed on the injured reserve. I’m skeptical the team is willing to do a deal that pushes money into future years for Jackson.
Look to the draft: This year’s draft class is deep and talented at receiver. And while you might not get someone as talented as Jackson, the Chargers still can find a player with a similar skill set. And that player will be inexpensive and under team control in terms of contract for a longer period. Players like Wyoming’s Robert Herron or South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington can be drafted in the middle rounds and are talented enough to help the Chargers immediately. Telesco plucking Allen in the third round last year is an example of the GM's ability to evaluate receivers in the draft that fit San Diego’s offensive system.
Further, McCoy believes Rivers' improved performance is not an aberration.
"He should start off where he finished and have the type of year he had last year," McCoy said. "Our team will only improve. There were a lot of first times for our team also, in a new system. There's things you're learning -- you practice things all the time but they may not be against a certain coverage.
"He was learning as we were going during the year. As time goes along you put in a new play, maybe it's a play out of a new formation, or someone else is running it, Ladarius [Green] is running it versus one of the receivers. You're still learning about one another and your system every week.
"We said the first day sitting here last year [that] Philip Rivers was not the problem. It was everyone else around him playing better. He'll be the first one to tell you also that he needed to play better. He couldn't make certain decisions he made. That's the quarterback position. You'll throw interceptions sometimes. He's going to make more good decisions than bad decisions."
McCoy said even with former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt moving on and taking the head coaching job in Tennessee, he still expects Rivers to have similar success under new offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
"The system's in place," McCoy said. "We put a system in place last year to be there for the long haul, and we all sat down and there were good offensive minds in there and there are still some good offensive minds in there. We knew this could happen at this point in time that Ken could leave. But that's what happens in this profession. We have a great staff in place. We added [tight ends coach] Pete Metzelaars and he will be great for the offense also. We built the system for the long haul."
The NFL announced that 13 teams received a total of 32 compensatory selections for the draft.
Check out the details here.
According to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than acquired in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks.
Usually, the number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four.
San Diego has had 18 compensatory picks since 1994, the first year the NFL began awarding compensatory selections.
So the Chargers will have seven picks in the upcoming draft -- one in each round. Here’s the full list.
First round (1) -- No. 25 overall
Second round (1) – No. 57 overall
Third round (1) – No. 89 overall
Fourth round (1) – No. 25
Fifth round (1) – No. 25
Sixth round (1) – No. 25
Seventh round (1) – No. 25
Here’s a list of San Diego’s compensatory selections since 2004. Only one player, linebacker Andrew Gachkar, remains with the team.
2012 – RB Edwin Baker
2011 – OL Stephen Schilling, LB Andrew Gachkar
2010 – QB Jonathan Crompton
2007 – LB Anthony Waters
2004 – OL Carlos Joseph
Allen added $218,153 to his a little over $1 million in total compensation in 2013. Following Allen on the list for the Chargers were safety Jahleel Addae ($196,582), an undrafted rookie free agent considered a long shot to make the final roster last season; offensive lineman Johnnie Troutman ($187,085); cornerback Richard Marshall ($181,694); and receiver Vincent Brown ($160,243).
Check out the full list for every NFL team here.
Established in 2002 as part of the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL's performance-based pay program is a fund created and used as a supplemental form of player compensation based on a comparison of playing time to salary.
Players become eligible to receive a bonus distribution in any regular season in which they play at least one official down.
Each NFL team received $3.46 million to pay out to their players for the 2013 season. Generally, players who benefit the most from the pool of money are those that played extensively but had low salaries relative to their teammates.
Allen played in 898 offensive snaps in 2013.
The Oregon native sought a return to the West Coast and is familiar with San Diego. Clemens' wife, Nicole, attended the University of San Diego and has family and friends in the area.
"He's a hard worker," Clemens said about Woodhead. "He's a pro, and he understands the game. He has a high IQ. All he needed was an opportunity. And I'm excited to get another opportunity to play with him."
Location and a good locker room environment were selling points, but the clinchers for Clemens proved a chance to work with Philip Rivers and an opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl.
Clemens believes he achieved both by signing with San Diego.
"The guys in the quarterback room are people I'm going to be spending a lot of time with, so it's real important," he said. "Obviously, Philip brings a level of professionalism, toughness and maturity. And I'm excited to work with him."
Clemens said he enjoyed watching the Chargers make their surprising postseason run from afar last season.
"I like the direction the team his headed, making that playoff run and winning in the wild-card round," he said. "Going on that great run at the end of the season shows a lot."
With Charlie Whitehurst moving on in free agency to Tennessee, San Diego didn't bring Clemens in just to hold a clipboard. The 30-year-old University of Oregon product can win games if called upon.
Clemens showed that important characteristic last season. In 2013, he subbed for an injured Sam Bradford, leading the St. Louis Rams to a 4-5 record. Clemens threw for nearly 2,000 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
While some of the concepts are familiar, Clemons will be learning San Diego's offense from scratch, having just gotten the playbook this week.
"I work hard, and I think I'm a pretty good teammate," Clemons said. "I'm not going to be any problem in the locker room, that's for sure. There's a passion I have for the game that hopefully is a little contagious."
Most significant loss: It might not be felt on the field, but Charlie Whitehurst leaving the Chargers in free agency to join former San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee will be felt in the quarterback room. Whitehurst is a close friend of Philip Rivers, and served as a good sounding board for the franchise quarterback in practice and in games.
What’s next? As the second wave of free agency approaches, the Chargers still have holes to fill at cornerback, defensive tackle, interior offensive line and receiver. Players who could make some sense for San Diego include Denver Broncos free-agent cornerback Champ Bailey and, if released, New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
Walker was one of San Diego's most versatile players on defense in 2013, seeing time at all four linebacker positions in defensive coordinator John Pagano's 3-4 defensive front.
Walker, 27, signed with San Diego in September before the start of the regular season after being released by Arizona last May.
The Kansas State product started six games and played a total of 451 snaps defensively during the regular season, finishing with 36 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.
Ghee, 26, played in 23 games during part of four seasons with Cincinnati, totaling 17 tackles and five pass breakups. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, Ghee was a third-round selection by the Bengals in the 2010 draft.
Roby no doubt fills a need for the Chargers, who have just one cornerback (Shareece Wright) with NFL regular-season starting experience currently on the roster. Kiper had Roby pegged for the Chargers in his first mock draft. After a so-so performance by Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson at the NFL scouting combine, Roby moves back to No. 25 for San Diego.
Kiper had Roberson going to the Chargers in his second mock draft, but the Florida product fell out of the first round in Kiper's latest mock draft.
At 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, Roby is athletic, running a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and posting a 38.5-inch vertical jump. Roby also is versatile, with the ability to play on the perimeter or match up inside against slot receivers. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano likes players who can move around the field and play different positions.
Conner, 27, totaled a career-high 104 tackles in 15 starts with Indianapolis in 2011. Conner started 36 games in four seasons for the Colts, collecting 236 tackles, seven pass breakups and a sack.
GM Tom Telesco worked in the Colts' personnel department when the team drafted Conner out of Clemson in the seventh round in 2010.
At 6-foot and 240 pounds, Conner will compete for a roster spot as a reserve inside linebacker behind Donald Butler and Manti Te'o.
Along with Conner, the Chargers have signed running back Donald Brown and tight end David Johnson so far in free agenc. They also retained Butler, safety Darrell Stuckey and offensive lineman Chad Rinehart.
The eventual departure of receiver Steve Smith from the Carolina Panthers has been rumored for the past week. But according to this story by Steve Reed of the Associated Press, that speculation could soon become a reality.
Reed quotes Smith’s longtime agent, Derrick Fox, stating that whether through trade or outright release, Smith will not be with the Panthers in 2014.
“[Steve] is not going to play for the Panthers next year, I know that,” Fox told the Associated Press. “I just don’t know when that transaction is going to take place.”
Smith’s contract runs through 2016. Carolina will have to pay the Utah product $3 million whether he’s with the team or not for the upcoming season.
Despite the Panthers moving on from Smith, the 13-year, NFL veteran can still play, and would be a good fit for a San Diego offense looking to add more playmakers. Smith was one of Cam Newton's favorite targets, finishing with 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
At 5-9 and 185 pounds, Smith still has enough speed to get deep, the ability to make plays after the catch and is one of the most competitive players in the league. That passion should fit in well with the ultra-competitive Philip Rivers.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy is very familiar with Smith, having coached him for eight seasons while serving as quarterbacks coach, receivers coach and passing game coordinator in Carolina. So McCoy will know how to use Smith’s skill set in new offensive coordinator Frank Reich's version of San Diego's offense.
Smith, who turns 35 in May, also would pair with Eddie Royal to give San Diego a nice rotation at slot receiver, along with a veteran presence in the receiving room to balance against young receivers like Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown. Smith, a Los Angeles native, also could return to his West Coast roots.
Smith would have a chance to still make a run at a Super Bowl with San Diego. And with Carolina basically paying Smith $3 million to play for someone else in 2014, Smith could be an inexpensive option to help bolster the team’s receiving group.