As the Chargers struggle to justify not at least offering long-term contracts to their two current holdouts, plenty of media outlets and fans are going to point the finger at the team’s General Manager A.J. Smith. Some of that blame surely comes because of Smith’s arrogant attitude with the media and his questionable negotiation tactics, but the fact of the matter is that Smith is an employee of the Chargers organization under no one’s authority but team ownership. Dean Spanos and the Spanos family sign Smith’s paycheck and they evidently feel that the GM is doing an extraordinary job. And why wouldn’t they?
Smith took on the title of general manager after the late John Butler passed away in April of 2003 from his battle with lung cancer. After working his way up through the ranks as an NFL scout in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, Smith landed with the Buffalo Bills where he would begin a 14-year relationship with the team. He served as an area scout (1987-1988), their Assistant Director of College Scouting (1989-1992), and then became the Director of Pro Personnel (1993-2000). Smith’s time in Buffalo came during the heyday of the franchise when the Bills notoriously reached four consecutive Super Bowls only to lose each of those contests to superior NFC opponents.
During his first season as GM with the Bolts, Smith was named Executive of the Year by CBS Sportsline.com after the team transformed from a 4-12 nightmare to a 12-4 Cinderella. That year was the resurrection of Drew Brees’ career in San Diego and ultimately forced the Bolts to place the franchise tag on him even though they had just selected Philip Rivers in the 2004 NFL Draft after a controversial trade with the New York Giants. Smith’s trade for Rivers acquired the picks from the Giants which would later be used to select linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding (both Pro Bowlers). The incidents that followed the 2005 season would eventually begin the second guessing of Smith’s management philosophies and provide the ammunition for those who question his priorities to this day.
After Brees suffered a torn labrum in the season finale of 2005, then Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer came under scrutiny for leaving Brees in the game. The chain of events that would follow included Brees being allowed to test the free agent market and eventually signing with the New Orleans Saints while the Bolts turned the reigns over to Rivers under center. After an outstanding first season by Rivers and company posting a 14-2 record, expectations were high as the number one seed in the AFC. The Bolts would be stunned in a Divisional round playoff loss to the New England Patriots after some passive coaching decisions by Schottenheimer. In a highly publicized spat, Smith and Marty starred one another down with the end result being Schottenheimer’s pink slip in San Diego.
What does all of this controversy mean?
In short, Smith is a man with principals that are written in stone and if someone fails to conform to his way of thinking, the Bolt GM would rather move on without them than change his ideals. Call it stubborn, but Smith has found success in San Diego building a perrenial AFC West champion team and creating a core group of players that have another four or five years of upper level production ahead of them. That is what makes these holdouts so troubling being that they involve two of those draft pick gems that Smith has become noted for during his tenure with the team. Jackson was plucked late in round number two with the 61st overall selection in 2005 while McNeill was snagged just one year later in the second round with the 50th pick.
Not every general manager is capable of finding Pro Bowl caliber players in the latter half of round two on a yearly basis, but not every GM has the audacity to stare down holdouts from two of his premier offensive stars and not blink either. Smith is definitely one of a kind in the NFL and quite a trailblazer with his negotiation tactics, but the jury is still out on whether that is a good or bad thing for the sake of the franchise.
Let’s hear from the fans, should Smith give in to the demands of both McNeill and Jackson or should he stand firm in the face of adversity? Which side will ultimately cave, the players or team management? Has Smith been an effective general manager or does the team need to look elsewhere if they want to reach the pinnacle and one day raise the Lombardi trophy? Pour on the comments below!
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