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Friday, March 4, 2011
Chargers plan same free-agency approach

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

The patient San Diego Chargers stunned the NFL Thursday with their under-the-radar signing of former NFL defensive player of the year Bob Sanders.

Is this an indication that the usually free-agent weary Chargers will go on a spending spree in an attempt to springboard back into the playoffs? The Chargers missed the postseason for the first time in five years last season.

Not so fast, says the man behind the Chargers’ plans. I caught up with San Diego general manager A.J. Smith on Friday. He said the team’s free-agency game plan will not change.

“We’re players in free agency, we just don’t always explore the big-money players and I don’t expect that to change,” Smith said. “We’re not totally against it. There always can be a signed player that we will spend big bucks on. We’re not against not. But that’s a unique situation. Usually, we wait and see what is out here and we are particular. That’s not going to change.”

Smith believes in building through the draft and the Chargers are in good shape this season. The Chargers have five picks in the first three rounds. They have extra picks in the second and third rounds. Smith said he has not decided whether to move up, trade down or stand pat in the first round at No. 18.

“We can do anything, we haven’t decided yet,” Smith said. “But it’s nice to have the five early picks.”

The Chargers have franchised receiver Vincent Jackson and have signed Sanders. It’s a good start to an offseason that is stalled by the extended collective bargaining agreement talks.

Smith is very excited about Sanders and has been a fan since Sanders played at Iowa. The Chargers weren’t mentioned as suitors for Sanders. Buffalo, Jacksonville and the Jets were all in on Sanders before he suddenly signed with the Chargers.

Sanders has played in only nine regular-season games in the past three years. He tore a bicep in Week 1 in 2010. Smith said he is aware that there are no guarantees of Sanders’ health, still the team believes he can be a major addition.

“I’ve always highly regarded him,” Smith said of Sanders said. “I admire his physical play, his intensity, his character, his leadership. There is a package there.”

The Chargers plan to play Sanders at strong safety and have second-year player Darrell Stuckey be his backup. The team wants to re-sign free safety Eric Weddle and have Steve Gregory back him up.