Chargers Free Agency 2011: Offense

For a team once considered among the league’s most talented and deepest squads, the Chargers offseason will go a long way in determining if that perception can be maintained in the future. With a staggering 28 Bolts set to hit free agency in early March, the organization has a plethora of important decisions to make concerning the team’s future at several key positions.

The offseason has been underway for a few weeks now in San Diego, yet still there has been no word from General Manager A.J. Smith to the press on which way he is leaning considering each individual free agent. The positions in question range from right tackle and wide receiver on offense to safety, corner, defensive end, and inside linebacker on defense as the Chargers enter this transition period for their personnel.

San Diego’s offense has been one of the league’s most feared and most productive over the past half decade, yet the team still has several question marks on that unit moving into 2011.

Although it may be a secondary concern to most, the backup quarterback is always just one snap away from becoming the starter and the Bolts will have just one active man under center when free agency gets underway. Starter Philip Rivers is the only man with a contract at the moment as the team whiffed in the draft last season on fifth round selection Jonathan Crompton and traded away third stringer Charlie Whitehurst to the Seattle Seahawks last March.

Billy Volek’s deal is up, but the team would like to keep him onboard as their insurance policy to Rivers. The two are great friends and certainly have a tremendous working relationship, but the potential to become a starter somewhere else in the league could persuade Volek to pursue other opportunities this offseason. At the ripe age of 34, Volek is no spring chicken either which could force the Bolts to address the position on the free agent market or again via the draft.

Arguably the biggest concern for this offensively explosive squad lies on the outside at wide receiver where the top three most productive players at that position are on the open market.

Vincent Jackson clearly has top billing among the group, but attitude questions as well as character concerns stemming from off-field incidents in the past have to weigh heavily on the minds of the front office. The team was hesitant to throw any money in his direction last offseason and it’s likely for that trend to continue again this year. He can be a game-changing player when motivated and out on the field, but too many extracurricular missteps will most likely cost V Jack a chance to stay in San Diego long-term. The franchise tag is a very real possibility for next season as the team attempts to preserve their investment and perhaps elicit some trade offers in the process.

His replacement in 2010 was Malcom Floyd and if he had been able to stay healthy, Floyd looked every bit as explosive as Jackson over the top. Durability will certainly be a concern when the front office ultimately decides how much the former Wyoming Cowboy is worth, but a number of teams will be lined up behind the Bolts to throw substantial money at Floyd. This is one case where the team cannot afford to play chicken by low-balling the player so look for a significant offer to be made post haste for their new number one receiver.

Injuries also hampered Legedu Naanee’s potential breakout campaign this past season as he prepares to hit the free agent market in March. It’s unlikely that many teams will pursue Naanee who is still a largely unknown commodity across the league so he could be re-signed at a relatively cheap price. Short slip screens and intermediate pass patterns of that nature are Naanee’s bread and butter and the Chargers need to keep that element of their offensive scheme alive moving forward.

Along the offensive line, the Bolts are basically set looking ahead at least in the near term, but the right tackle spot with Jeromey Clary is an area that will have to be addressed. Clary is the only lineman with an expiring deal and his play during this past season went unnoticed for the most part (which is generally a good thing when it comes to playing on the O-line). As a strong run blocker with limited range and somewhat suspect pass protection skills, it really is a toss-up whether the Bolts will try to re-sign Clary or move in a new direction. If the price is right, expect to see Clary back in competition for the starting job at right tackle in 2011, but don’t look for the team to overspend in the process.

A number of draft pundits have pinpointed right tackle as the team’s number one need this offseason believing that the Bolts could target a prospect such as Colorado’s Nate Solder with the 18th selection in April’s NFL Draft. With five picks in the top 100 this year however, the Chargers could target a particular player later on in the proceedings rather than using their first round selection on a tackle that doesn’t fit their system. There are still weeks of debate remaining about the draft so don’t get too excited when it comes to mock drafts in January.

One thing is clear, the Chargers’ offense may have been one of the most productive in 2010, but that doesn’t give them a chance to be complacent by any means. There are plenty of need areas on offense for A.J. Smith to consider this offseason, let’s hope he makes the correct choices for this club’s success in 2011.

Here’s your chance to weigh-in. What position do you consider to be the Bolts’ main need on offense this offseason? Will Billy Volek remain in San Diego as the team’s number two option behind Philip Rivers? Do you believe that Vincent Jackson will be a Charger in 2011 or will the Bolts turn the page on V Jack in San Diego? Does Malcom Floyd have the tools necessary to be a number one receiver in the NFL or do the Chargers need to address that area via the draft or in free agency? Will right tackle be an area of concern for GM Smith or do you see Jeromey Clary back with the Bolts next year? Please give your thoughts in the comments section below!

January 28, 2011

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