San Diego is running out of time to fix their backfield
Written by Curt Popejoy on 01/21/2010
This offseason is going to be crazy. Crazy not in the way most of us anticipated when the talk of an uncapped 2010 season was going to be. We all had images of big market teams going in and sweeping up all the best free agents, and leaving nothing but crumbs for the rest of the league. But that is not going to be the case. The rules of free agency with this uncapped year are changed. Previously, a free agent is considered restricted if they have accrued 3 seasons of experience and unrestricted once they have 4. But this season, a free agent will be considered restricted once they have accrued 4 seasons and unrestricted only after 5. That one year is going to be huge for many teams, and many of the top young free agent talent in the league. Speaking specifically of the San Diego Chargers it means that young stars like OT Marcus McNeill, WR Vincent Jackson, LB Shawne Merriman, and RB Darren Sproles will be restricted rather than unrestricted. This is great news because in all likelihood they will be able to keep all these players, except Sproles.
So looking at the Chargers situation in terms of the offseason, most attention is going to have to be spent to the running back position. Darren Sproles was franchised last season and I seriously doubt he’s going to sign another one year tender, and he really shouldn’t. By the same token, I do not expect the Chargers to throw a long term contract at him either. He really hasn’t shown that he can carry the load, and probably doesn’t warrant a deal like that. I am sure if they can get him wrapped up fairly cheap long term they will, but some team is going to throw a big contract at him, and he’ll take it.
Then we move to LaDanian Tomlinson. As a non-charger fan who has loved watching LT play throughout his career, this last season was tough to watch. You can see that his skills have diminished. Is he a bad player? Absolutely not. But is he good enough for his contract? Not a chance. The Chargers have a $5 million buy out of his contract, and my expectation is they will exercise that, and he’s gone by March.
Let’s look at the cupboards and see what’s left. I reckon is starts with Michael Bennett. The 31 year old former Buc and Chief was active for 6 games, and ran up a gaudy 65 yards on 28 carries. Is this who you hitch your wagon to?
Let me talk about Jacob Hester for a moment. I happen to love Hester’s game. Thought he was a seriously underrated player at LSU, and to this point has not been utilized with any regularity at San Diego. I fully expect to see his role expanded next season and that will be a positive for the Chargers offense as he works hard and fights hard for yards. In a similar boat for Mike Tolbert. He’s a good player and in his role could be very effective. He’s a good old school head knocker, and I can see him lead blocking for Hester.
I looked over the Chargers practice squad and players on IR and there’s no one left. So, what does it all mean Basil? It means in this offseason the Chargers are going to have to add 2 running backs, realistically one via free agency and one via the draft, early on. I am not going to sit here and speculate on who the free agent will be. That’s not what I do. And with the rules changed, the prospects will be limited. But almost certainly once the smoke clears on Sproles and LT a free agent will be on board, perhaps as a June 1st cap cut. A solid vet, to tend to the store and pair with a rookie.
Who will that rookie be? Looking over the prospects available, and where the Chargers are picking and who else they will need, I do not forsee them looking at a running back in the first round. C.J. Spiller the consensus no.1 back is going to be long gone. The next names mainly Jonathan Dwyer of Georgia Tech and Jahvid Best might both be reaches at their first round pick.
What San Diego is then faced with is the question of when. Do you they take a back in the 2nd round? Wait until the 3rd or even 4th to find a sleeper type player? Let’s break down the options.
In the 2nd, really the choices are deep but they might not be what the Chargers are looking for. First guy I am thinking about is Toby Gerhart from Stanford. Gerhart might be the only guy in this draft who can be an 18-20 carry a game guy. He’s a bruiser with surprising speed and quickness and has just proven to be incredibly productive. But I strike Gerhart because the Chargers offense counts on backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield and work the screen game and I’m not sure Gerhart is that type of player.
The other 2nd round player is Ryan Matthews. Matthews, like Gerhart is a workhorse and has shown that he can carry the load even when the other team’s defense knows it’s coming. But like Gerhart, Matthews isn’t used much in the passing game and has shown when he is, he drops way too many catchable balls.
Now we move to the 3rd. This is where I think the Chargers can make a splash and get their guy. In fact I think there are 3 guys they should have their choice of, all of which fit what they want to do.
First is James Starks from Buffalo. One of the most underrated players in the nation at the running back position, he’s got great size(6-2, 211lbs), shows nice speed and quickness, good vision and patience and have been very productive, especially in the passing game. Starks would be a nice value for San Diego and looks like a Charger back for sure.
Second is Joe McKnight, USC. McKnight came to USC as the next Reggie Bush and let’s be honest, it just hasn’t happened. He chose to declare as a Junior and considering the talent on the roster, the grease fire going down at USC and his future it was a smart move. McKnight is a player very similar to Starks, a little smaller, a lot quicker and faster and runs with a little less power. McKnight is another guy who has shown he can do well in the passing game and can be counted on.
Lastly, Montario Hardesty, Tennessee-Hardesty came on like gangbusters this year. You could always see flashes of it prior to this season, but with superstar in the making Bryce Brown breathing down his neck, Hardesty stepped up. In a draft full of players who are role players and with even more who aren’t featured in the passing game Hardesty is going to be in demand.
When I am breaking down the Chargers roster and their needs running back has to be on the board. Now, I’m not saying that the Chargers couldn’t wait and try and get a player like Andre Anderson from Tulane or Keith Toston from Oklahoma State But I snatch up one of the above players to fill in that gap at running back, and pair him with a mid level vet, and don’t miss the opportunity to continue to contend with all that talent on that roster.
Last Edited: 01/21/2010