Does AJ Smith Sound As If He's Conceeded The Season?

Chargers General Manager AJ Smith is known for his hard-lined, no-nonsense policies, whether it be his approach to the media, his dealings with agents and players, or his philosophy towards free agency and the draft. As he would put it, "there is a book" on him - a track record. Known for keeping an eye on the future, having adequate depth at all positions, and taking care of his own, it's bewildering how such a well-run personnel department prepares to enter a season in which it finds itself caught with it's proverbial pants on the ground; without the services of Pro Bowl players Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil, and no one legitimate replacements.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement deadline had been looming on the horizon for years; when the owners decided to opt out of the agreement in 2008 they thereby agreed to play the 2010 season without a salary cap. An uncertain situation such as this needed delicate action, but the Chargers seem content to simply freeze. AJ Smith has acknowledged the difficulties with retaining so much young talent in the past. But as someone who knew this day would come, it appears as if he is ill-prepared with what has transpired. It seems as though Smith was gambling that McNeill and Jackson would be happy to sign their tenders and that the Chargers would march towards an eventual Super Bowl berth.

But that's not was has happened. Jackson and McNeill refused to sign and are prepared to sit out a majority of the season. The Chargers will be without two important keys to their offense and could find themselves regressing.

“It hurts,” Smith said. “It hurts when you don’t have your players. How are you going to win a championship without your left tackle and your wideout? I’m sick about it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how anybody could be more upset about this than me. My head is spinning. I’m trying to replace them. I think we’ve got a good football team. We’re losing a left tackle and a wide receiver, I want our team to know they’re gone. Talk about it now, process it while you’re on vacation, get it out of the way. But they’re not coming back, and we have to move on. If those players change their mind, I’ll deal with it then.”

AJ Smith responded quickly by signing journeymen free agents Tra Thomas and Josh Reed, but those acquisitions strike me as desperate moves, not executions of a well-formulated plan. Hadn't Smith and his front office people been in contact with the agents of Jackson and McNeill? Did they not discuss each others' intentions prior to 2010? Were those lines of communication even open? I would guess not, because the Chargers ignored both the offensive tackle position as well as the wide receiver position in the 2010 NFL Draft. Was drafting a safety and a middle linebacker in the third and fourth rounds really a smart decision? Couldn't the Chargers have found a tackle and a wideout instead?

The Chargers are a frugal team but have shown the willingness to lock-up players who they've identified as a key components to the team. No one will argue against signing Philip Rivers to a $90 million dollar contract, but there have been more than a few who've scratched their heads at deals handed out to Luis Castillo and Jyles Tucker; two players millionaires many times over. And as good as Darren Sproles is, $7 million dollars a year over the past two years is an enormous amount of money for a kick returner and specialty back.

At this point, I think the reality is that Vincent Jackson will not be signing a long-term contract with the San Diego Chargers. Unless the Chargers decide to franchise tag him in 2011, and they very well may, I think he leaves the team and signs a fair market deal elsewhere. And as for Marcus McNeill, I can only hope that the Chargers and McNeill's agent can come to terms on a long-term contract and secure such a valuable position on the Chargers' roster.

“In a normal year, we would be doing contracts,” says Smith. “My philosophy has not changed. I want to identify people and keep them. Under normal conditions, maybe we would have signed them. It’s a unique year, a difficult year. We’re all businessmen. I’m disappointed. They have rights. Unfortunately, it’s not good for us to win a championship without our Pro Bowl left tackle and wide receiver. Not every player can get max contracts. The more star players you have, the more difficult it becomes. But it’s very difficult to win championships without your best players. Everyone knows that.”

It's not hard to find the frustration and disappointment in AJ Smith's words. And if you look closely enough, a certain sense of concession can be found. The Chargers at this point don't seem to be making any big pushes for the 2010 season. With a rookie lead running back, no star receiver available, question marks at offensive tackle, and a tight end who hopes his foot is good to go, it almost sounds as if AJ Smith has lowered his expectations for his team.

“We haven’t won a world championship yet,” Smith says. “We have not been able to get it done. We cannot crack it. If you’ve not hit it yet, and now you have all these obstacles, it’s not fun at all. The bottom line is we’re all passing through here – the players are, and I am, too. I don’t know when Dean Spanos will knock on my door and not want me anymore. How do you know that? So all I can do is stay true to my philosophy.”

It's a philosophy that has worked well in the past, so why does the team now find itself looking unprepared when expectations are so high?

QUOTES SOURCED FROM: The San Diego Union-Tribune and Yahoo! Sports

July 19, 2010

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Rob Zepeda said... Jul 19, 2010, 12:59:00 AM

For the record, I'm an AJ Smith fan. His job is not an easy one. But this situation could have and should have been avoided in my opinion. And with the expectations being Super Bowl or bust, the Chargers are an injury away from having the season potentially fall apart and again missing their goal...

Anonymous said... Jul 19, 2010, 9:28:00 AM

def agree with rob!!!

Anonymous said... Jul 19, 2010, 10:55:00 AM

Unfortunately, the Chargers will not win a Superbowl with AJ as the leader. He hasn't drafted a Pro Bowl in 4-5 years and he continually pisses off all of his players expcept Phillip Rivers. The running joke around the NFL is this. Question: How do you beat the Chargers? Answer: Tell AJ Smith what a great GM that he is.

If you really look at his record, it isn't that great. Yes he has several AFC WEst titles BUT look at the competition. The Raiders and Chiefs have had one of the worst records in the NFL. One AFC championship game is all that he has accomplished and that was years ago.

Face it. AJ is holding back the Chargers. AJ is a decent scout but a lousy GM. He only got the job because John Butler died. Nobody was willing to hire him before this. Think about it.

Kevin said... Jul 19, 2010, 5:19:00 PM

Time is running out for this team. I mean, sure, they'll be competitive as long as they have an elite QB but if this team wants to reach that ultimate goal of finally winning a championship, they need to get OVER the hump and need to stop rolling back downhill...

Jorge said... Jul 19, 2010, 8:38:00 PM

No Way A.J. is doing a terrific Job, How many good players have he drafted in late rounds, a lot. do you guys remember how the colts kept knocking on the door, and finally won a SB. Remember how A.J. did a terrific job last season to replace all those injuries? be Patient San Diego,. If any our running game will get better, I do not like the not Signing Marcus McNeil Drama thought.
This guy always seem to put a good roster, I hate his personality but that's it.

Anonymous said... Jul 19, 2010, 9:26:00 PM

To say his record isn't any good is nuts. He has consistently put together one if the best squads in the entire league for 5 years. Look at the expert pre season picks. They agree. He's having difficulty with these two players for a number of reasons. It isn't the end of their season. He'll add pieces to make this a strong team. He always has.

slickrick said... Jul 19, 2010, 9:32:00 PM

you honestly think AJ Smith is pouring over scouting reports and going to pro days of the late round and undrafted guys??? he gets way too much credit in that aspect, when it's the scouts who are doing the actual work. as far as im concerned you can't miss so often with your first round picks when those are the big-name guys who everyone knows about. those should be your safest picks, and yet he hasn't nailed a first rounder since when? Cromartie in '06? Does he even count when he isn't even on the team anymore?

Justin Brennan said... Jul 20, 2010, 6:20:00 AM

The Padres will win a championship before the Chargers do. I am a born and raised San Diegan. It is depressing knowing that San Diego is still the only city left in the the nation, with two major sports teams, that has never won a championship.... The reason... Up until now, both teams were owned by real estate families. Now that the Padres are not.... they will win a world series within 5 years. Real estae people fun their stuff too much like a business and forge about the personal and emotional side to the game that is powerful in developming chemistry. AJ Smith is cut from the mold and is far too business-like. He needs to pull the cork out of his a-- and allow just a bit of personal and emotional chemistry to set in.

Anonymous said... Jul 20, 2010, 4:24:00 PM

Hating on AJ Smith is ridiculous, the Chargers have had one of the top rosters in the league for the past 6 years because of what he has done. He doesn't play the games, so you cannot blame him for any of the teams misfortunes. I am glad he doesn't bow down to these players, especially a guy with multiple DUI's who almost gets arrested before a playoff game and then gets an arrogant penalty for kicking a flag ... 69 catches in a year doesn't make you a top 5 receiver in the league, I don't care what your avg yards per catch is, VJ can kiss my ass if he thinks he is worth 10 million per year, HA!

Anonymous said... Jul 20, 2010, 7:44:00 PM

Sounds like more handwringing. AJ knows what it takes to win football games. He's proven it over his tenure in SD. Caught with his pants on the ground? We have a deep roster, and have brought in help in the off season. AJ will have the team competing this year, with or without VJ and MM. Trying to criticize him about stuff you know nothing about is ridiculous.

And since when is adding some of your own posturing to some SDUT and Yahoo Sports quotes considered journalism? BT must be hurting for stuff to fill bandwidth.

Anonymous said... Jul 21, 2010, 8:56:00 AM

AJ has always been this way. He says he looks to the future, but when the future is now he lets players go. The chargers develop good players into great players, then they leave. I know I will upset people in this statement, but LT should have been gone years ago and we should have kept Turner. We developed a great back for another team. The Chargers struggled for a left tackle for years. Mcneil developed into a great tackle. Jackson developed into a great receiver. Now AJ shows his consistency in the fact he is willing to gamble another season because he does not want to pay anyone any kind of money or bring any free agent worth a damn. AJ look at your own pattern of work and stop patting yourself on the back.

JMil said... Jul 23, 2010, 11:22:00 AM

VJ is gone, which is a shame. I feel him and Floyd could have been the next Michael Irvin/Alvin Harper as far as WO duo's. I love Floyd but lets be honest his abilities lie with the jump ball, no real RAC. I believe this will actually be Legadu's coming out party and he will assert himself as the No.1 receiver. Lets just hope we can hold on to him when the time comes. After those two though there is a huge dropoff as far as quality and who will replace them after they leave for more money down the road? Our team is so exciting because of our WO play and I dread the return of the Reche Caldwell/Eric Parker Days (sorry eric)

arnie said... Jul 23, 2010, 3:18:00 PM

hey we are 74-49 under his tender. whether i agree on how he deals with "certain" players or not, the record shows A.J. continues to find talent that keep this team competitive. with that said, i actually admire A.J. stance in this day and age of players gimmie, gimmie, gimmie more money. there are fans out here that have went broke buying that jersey or, buying that ticket, just be apart of or, see their team play. my point.....


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