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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
The Chargers are in a tough spot

By Bill Williamson

This is not a good day in San Diego.

Vincent Jackson has walked away.

While there were indications in recent days that the Chargers were not prepared to match an enormous deal for Jackson, there has long been the thought that the Chargers -- who are heavily pursuing New Orleans’ Robert Meachem on Tuesday night -- couldn’t afford to let Jackson leave.

This is a critical offseason in San Diego and it has not started well. In addition to Jackson leaving, the Chargers saw longtime standout guard Kris Dielman retire because of a severe concussion he suffered last season, the team cut left tackle Marcus McNeill because of a neck injury and valuable running back Mike Tolbert is poised to visit AFC West rival Kansas City on Wednesday. The Chargers also have priority free agents in left tackle Jared Gaither and defensive tackle Antonio Garay. San Diego’s lone bright spot, thus far, was the re-signing of standout center Nick Hardwick on Tuesday to a three-year deal.

Chargers' Vincent Jackson
The Chargers must now figure out how to replace star receiver Vincent Jackson.
The Chargers must get better. They must do some things in free agency.

Owner Dean Spanos upset the fan base when he brought back coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith in January.

Fans expected Spanos to show a commitment to them by getting better in free agency, and the Chargers still could get better.

But seeing Jackson leave is not going to convince the San Diego fan base the Chargers are truly committed to getting back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.

Jackson is a premier receiver and he was a great fit for quarterback Philip Rivers, who has to be wondering what is going on with his offensive line and receiving crew.

The Chargers gambled by not giving Jackson the franchise tag for a second year because it jumped to more than $13 million this season. He is averaging just more than $11 million per season with Tampa Bay. The Chargers took a shot at Jackson, but they likely never got close to what Tampa Bay offered.

Now, the Chargers have to go find a top receiver. The only receivers on the roster are No. 2 starter Malcom Floyd (who is injury prone) and second-year player Vincent Brown.

The free-agent class is drying up. The best options may be Brandon Lloyd, Meachem, Mario Manningham and Laurent Robinson. Meachem may soon sign with the Bills even though the Chargers are pushing for him. Robinson flourished in Dallas last season after not making the Chargers’ roster last September. I’m not sure any of those players will make anyone forget about Jackson. The Chargers, who badly need a top pass-rusher, may have to consider taking someone such as Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd with the No. 18 overall pick in the draft.

Here is one way I think the Chargers can regain the trust of fans, but it’s a long shot. They could step in front of Buffalo and sign monster pass-rusher Mario Williams and then sign Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace to an offer sheet the Steelers couldn’t match. The restricted free agent would cost the Chargers their first-round pick if he signed. But adding Williams (the best free agent on the market) and having Wallace replace Jackson would show San Diego’s fans the team is serious about getting better.

Again, don’t expect it to happen, but the Chargers must improve and getting creative may be necessary.