AFC West: Vincent Jakcosn

Chargers' decision a year late

December, 31, 2012
Dean Spanos made the right decision Monday.

It’s too bad it was a year too late.

Time is precious in the NFL and the Chargers will never get back the 2012 season, which goes down as an unnecessarily lost season.

The Chargers can look at their AFC West rival Denver Broncos as an example of making a harsh decision at the right time. Denver dismissed Josh McDaniels before his second season with the team was complete in 2010. The Broncos didn’t worry that it was too soon. Now, two years later, the Broncos are as healthy as any franchise in the NFL. It all began with the McDaniels firing.

Last year, Spanos kept general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner because they were good football men. He liked them and the players liked them. But their time was up. They were no longer effective in their roles. Instead of making the decision to move on, Spanos waited until the Chargers went 7-9 in 2012.

San Diego badly needs an infusion of new blood. It needs to become a healthy franchise.

Smith and Turner did some good things. But the program got stagnant and the talent base has dried up some. Smith was with the team for 10 years and Turner was there for six years.

Four years ago, this was one of the NFL’s best rosters. That is no longer the case. Several free agents, such as Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert, have left and the program has suffered. Smith has been unable to keep up the roster because of free-agent and draft decisions that didn’t work.

He will never be forgiven by the fan base for passing up Clay Matthews in favor of Larry English in the first round four years ago. The 2010 blockbuster trade to get running back Ryan Mathews is looking shaky as well.

The decisions have shown on the field. The Chargers' offensive production has suffered a steep decline in the past three seasons. After starting 32-16 in San Diego, Turner finished 24-24.

Smith and Turner were given more than enough time. They were given a year’s worth too much time.

What’s next for them?

Smith could interest some teams. There will be a lot of front-office change, so he could be in the mix.

Turner is considered one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive coordinators. He will be sought after. If Mike McCoy gets a job (he is interviewing in Chicago and Arizona), I could see Denver having interest. I could see the Jets and the Ravens (if they make a hire) being interested as well. Turner should get his pick of jobs as he likely moves from his final stint as an NFL head coach.
It was almost 12 hours ago when I first reported that San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert has signed a four-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. I ended the short post by saying I would have more on the story later.

I should have indicated it would be much, much later. I guess I got sidetracked by another little story that developed in the AFC West.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some thoughts on Tolbert’s departure:

I don’t like it.

Last month, I wrote the Chargers couldn’t afford to lose another running back. Last year, they saw Darren Sproles go to New Orleans and he was missed. So will Tolbert.

He is a stud in short yardage, he has nice hands, he is a fine blocker, and he is great on special teams. Winning teams have players like Tolbert.

Ryan Mathews will need a new complement. Two names to keep an eye on are Kansas City’s Jackie Battle and Oakland’s Michael Bush. Bush is getting interest from the Bengals, Bears and Seahawks. Perhaps the Chargers will join the party. Other running backs available include Cedric Benson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai.

The Chargers will see a lot of familiar faces when they play the NFC South in 2012. They will see Tolbert and Sproles as they will see recently departed star receiver Vincent Jackson in Tampa Bay and will face former backup running back Michael Turner when they play the Falcons.

The Chargers' last real priority in-house free agent is defensive tackle Antonio Garay.
As soon as free agency began Tuesday afternoon, the Buffalo Bills had a plane waiting for New Orleans free agent receiver Robert Meachem.

The Bills flew him north and dined with him Tuesday night. The Bills had a full itinerary waiting for him Wednesday. Then, Vincent Jackson left the Chargers. All Buffalo bets were off.

With Jackson and several other receivers off the market quickly Tuesday, the San Diego Chargers -- who reports showed late interest in Pierre Garcon before he signed with the Redskins -- went from showing no interest in Meachem early in free agency to becoming his most ardent pursuer. In addition to Buffalo, the Chargers blew away two other teams with a huge offer for Meachem.

And now the speedster is going to be Philip Rivers’ newest toy.

Meachem agreed to a four-year, $25.9 million deal with $14 million guaranteed in the first two years of the deal. The agreement came hours after Jackson signed with the Buccaneers for five years and $55.5 million.

There is no doubt Meachem is not as accomplished as Jackson and the Chargers would be best served to add another receiver in free agency. The best options are Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson and Mario Manningham. They also could use their first-round pick on someone such as Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. I think Lloyd could be an interesting option.

Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace would cost a first-round pick as a restricted free agent if the Steelers didn’t match a deal. I think the Meachem agreement ends that possibility. Perhaps San Diego could look at Oakland’s Chaz Schilens, who played at San Diego State. He’d fit the Chargers’ mold of big receivers.

Meachem does give the Chargers a terrific vertical threat. He has 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash. He will be a good fit with Rivers and No. 2 starter Malcom Floyd, who also is a field stretcher. Like Floyd, Meachem has had some durability issues. Vincent Brown likely will be the No. 3 receiver in his second season.

Meachem had 40 catches for 620 yards last season for the Saints, where he often was lost in a strong receiving crew. Meachem, the Saints’ first-round pick in 2007, had 129 catches and 20 touchdowns in the past three seasons, and has averaged 16.1 yards per catch in his career. There is no doubt Meachem has big-play flair and he will fit in Norv Turner’s system, but I still believe the Chargers need to add to their receiving crew.

UPDATE: I caught up with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. on Wednesday morning. Here are his thoughts on the Chargers’ day at receiver:

“Meachem isn’t Vincent Jackson. He is very talented, though, and I do think his most productive football might be in front of him. He also is a deep threat, which is absolutely key in San Diego’s deep passing attack. But, to me, there was only one No. 1 receiver on the market, and he just signed with Tampa Bay.”
The San Diego Chargers have been one of the most effective teams in the NFL the past two days. They continued their strong work by securing safety Eric Weddle for a record contract. Weddle was the Chargers’ top free-agency priority.

His agreement comes a day after the Chargers kept right tackle Jeromey Clary and tight end Randy McMichael and struck a deal with veteran inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. The team agreed to terms with veteran safety Bob Sanders prior to the lockout.

The agreement with Weddle means San Diego’s defense has a chance to be very strong once again. It was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year and Weddle was a big part of it. He is playmaker who is very smart and who offers strong leadership. The Football Outsiders think it is a smart move for the Chargers to keep Weddle.

He fits in well with Spikes and Sanders because of the way he plays the game. Some people around the league may be startled to see that he is now the highest-paid safety in NFL history after agreeing to a five-year, $40 million deal that includes $19 million in guaranteed money, but Weddle means a lot to San Diego.

He is a pillar in the community and he has never been in any trouble. He is a leader in the locker room as well. The Chargers have been reluctant to give star receiver Vincent Jackson an extension partly because of off-field concerns. Weddle never gave the Chargers any headaches and he was rewarded for it.

“The Chargers stepped up,” Weddle’s agent, David Canter, just told me. “I can’t say enough about that organization.”

Weddle had significant interest from seven teams, Canter said. Among the teams believed to be interested were the Jaguars, Browns, Vikings, Cowboys and Texans. Canter said he focused on getting a deal done with the Chargers Wednesday morning. Weddle, a Southern California native, didn’t want to play anywhere else.

Expect the Chargers to try to re-sign linebacker Kevin Burnett. However, players like receiver Malcom Floyd and running back/returner Darren Sproles may be on the way out. The Chargers didn’t make those players priorities.