Five Questions The Chargers Must Answer In 2011

With NFL labor issues swirling, and with Los Angeles stadium news making San Diego fans uncomfortable, we can still focus on the Chargers’ priorities this off-season. 2010 was a disappointment, so moves have to be made now to lift the Chargers back to the top of the AFC West and to put them back into Super Bowl contention. Still, more than ever, the Chargers seem to have more questions than answers at this point. Here are five questions the Chargers must answer this off-season to get back on track in 2011:

1. What are the Charger’s priorities for the upcoming draft? Some argue that the Chargers could use help at almost every position on the team due to the large number of unrestricted free agents the team has to deal with this off-season. Given that the Chargers have had a league-leading offense for a few years now, their draft should focus primarily on defense. There could be serious losses at linebacker, and they could always use help on the defensive line and in the secondary, so I could see them taking the best defensive players available with their first two or three picks, even if that means another cornerback pick in the first round.

2. Which Chargers free agents should be brought back? You may have heard this one before, but the Chargers have a large number of impending free agents on their roster. This list includes starters like Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett, Eric Weddle, Malcolm Floyd, and Vincent Jackson, among others. It is probably a safe bet that the Chargers can’t bring back all of their free agents so they are going to have to make some tough choices. If it’s between Cooper and Burnett, who do they bring back? Can they keep Floyd, Jackson, and Legedu Naanee, who is also a free agent? Can they afford to lose Weddle, or fan favorite (hah!) starting right tackle Jeromey Clary? I think they need to keep all of these guys but I don’t see that happening.

3. Are there any impact free agents in the market, and can the Chargers sign them? Next to the draft, this may be the most intriguing question of the off-season. Free agent signings outside of their roster have never been a priority of the Chargers, but if ever there were a year where they could use some extra help, this would be it. Key free agents that I think could help the Chargers include DL Mathias Kiwanuka, S Bernard Pollard, LB’s Paul Posluszny or Takeo Spikes, or if they want to make a big splash maybe DL Haloti Ngata or LB Tamba Hali.

4. What do the Chargers have to do to avoid a slow start next season? The joke amongst Chargers fans is that you could always count on a slow start, a strong finish, and then a playoff collapse. Unfortunately, this year the team could not meet those lowered expectations. Is the 2010 2nd place finish what the Chargers needed to force an evaluation of their off-season training programs and in season game-day preparation? If the previous early season difficulties were not enough to elicit a change in the Chargers’ mental preparation and physical training programs, perhaps it can never be changed under the current staff.

5. Have they done enough to compete with the likes of the Steelers, Jets, Ravens, and Patriots? The final question cannot be answered at this point. Until we know where many of the Chargers free agents will land and how well the team does in the draft, it’s difficult to foresee whether or not the Chargers have done enough to keep up with the leaders in the AFC.

It is tough to guess how the Chargers will answer each of these questions in 2011. I believe the draft should lean heavily towards defense, but I won’t be surprised if AJ Smith and Company surprise us with their picks. I would love to see a top-tier free agent signed to strengthen the heart of the defense, but I don’t think the Chargers will sign a big name. How the Chargers, as well as every other team in the NFL, operate with an impending lock-out is anyone’s guess, but I can’t imagine there will be a lot of movement until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is completed.

Now that you have the questions, what are your answers? The draft, free agency…tell us how you would (realistically) improve the team going into 2011.

January 20, 2011

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