A.J. Smith Shoots Straight From The Hip


With the announcement of the Bob Sanders signing this past Friday, Chargers fans were finally ready to turn the corner on General Manager A.J. Smith and give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to personnel decisions. That optimism in San Diego didn’t even escape the weekend as Smith let his thoughts on soon to be free agent safety Eric Weddle be known to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In typical confrontational Smith terms, the Bolts GM said: “Eric is a great kid and an outstanding player. He is exactly the type of player we want to be a part of the Chargers organization. If we should offer a contract, we would present a contract to his agent, David Canter, both in years and money. Our hope then would obviously be he likes it and accepts. If not, as Eric said, he will be moving on in a heartbeat, as will we.”

As Bolts’ fans, it’s becoming easier and easier to see what direction this discussion is headed and it isn’t a good one. Smith’s no-nonsense approach to each and every negotiation is refreshing in many ways and gives the front office a feeling of consistency when it comes to contractual issues. Unfortunately the consistency that is being referred to in this case is a predictably low-ball offer that will undoubtedly make the player feel disrespected and most likely wind up with him signing elsewhere.

Perhaps the most confounding aspect of this entire ordeal is the fact that Weddle is one of Smith’s hand-picked draftees. The Chargers worked out the former Utah Ute several times prior to the 2007 NFL Draft and it became clear that the team’s front office was fixated on drafting the multi-purpose college athlete by any means necessary. Smith and his posse made that happen by moving up into the early second round paying a hefty ransom to acquire Weddle and his impressive skill set.

Fast forward to the present day where the Chargers’ safety is coming off of his best year as a pro and wants to be justly compensated, but the Bolts are balking at the notion of paying up. In a similar fashion to the way the Vincent Jackson saga unfolded last offseason, Smith has officially begun the game of verbal fisticuffs with Weddle’s agent David Canter saying: “Regarding David Canter and his comment he is ‘baffled’. Ed McGuire (Chargers vice president) has had several conversations with David regarding Eric. I have also had a conversation with David regarding Eric, and Coach Turner has talked with David. All I can say is I’m baffled (that) he’s baffled regarding our position at this point in time.”

Nowhere inside of that double-talk and misdirection did Smith actually mention anything about the content of those discussions nor whether the team has any intentions of actively trying to re-sign Weddle. Obviously the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) still hanging over the heads of all 32 NFL teams throws yet another wrench into this already volatile situation. Teams are unable to operate as normal and must wait until an agreement is reached to even begin negotiating with players as they typically would with so much uncertainty surrounding the salary cap and structuring of the new league agreement.

Of course this excuse also sounds quite familiar as last offseason Smith claimed that the team was not giving out long-term contracts due to the uncertain labor climate. One of the GM’s comments to the San Diego Union-Tribune alluded to these ambiguities as he said: “First, we don’t know Eric’s status yet. Second, if he should become (an unrestricted) free agent, I would hope by now everyone understands how we operate around here.”

That is up for debate at this point.

Fans are still attempting to understand just how the Bolts do operate and whether or not they should maintain any sense of optimism regarding Weddle’s return to the team. From his provocative nature to his downright mean-spirited insults, it has to be questioned if Smith makes things too personal at the negotiating table.

Mediation in Washington, D.C. will have a lot to do with just how things play out in San Diego from now until the next NFL season begins. The CBA and all of the seemingly insignificant details will have a large impact on the way the Chargers choose to do business once the dust has settled. Smith summed this up rather succinctly saying: “Once we have clarity and direction on who our free agents are we will proceed and let you know which players we would like to have back and which players we have decided to inform that we will be going another direction.”

Eloquence and grace may not be his strong suit, but Smith’s shrewd tactics have produced results on the field for the bulk of his tenure as Bolts’ GM. Getting this labor mess sorted out and signing Weddle to a long-term contract should be priority number one for this team, but something tells me all of this will take place on Smith’s terms.

Now let’s hear from you. Do you think Eric Weddle is the team’s number one priority once the CBA is sorted out or will they move in a different direction at safety? Are A.J. Smith’s negotiating tactics maddening and destructive or ingenious and productive? Do you think the similarities between the Vincent Jackson ordeal last offseason are similar to this year and Weddle or are they totally separate issues? From Smith’s comments, do the fans actually understand how the team operates as he implies or are we left to wonder what the strategy of this club actually is? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

March 8, 2011

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8 comments:

Jason Ciano said... Mar 8, 2011, 9:25:00 AM

Weddle is a good smart player who shows up and plays with heart, teamed with Sanders we will have great DBs

flash19sd said... Mar 8, 2011, 11:52:00 AM

It's important to remember that good GMs, in general, must take control of the player/management negotiation process right from the start by taking a hard line position. They can't let the agent "drive the bus" in negotiations and that's why AJ, in particular, comes off as gruff and uncompromising. Deal with it! That being said, I think the team does need to obtain at least one impact free agent (Fitzgerald in 2012?) and a couple "street FAs" like Sanders every year.

As for Weddle, I think AJ is too stubborn to let Weddle test free agency since he gave up so much just to draft him in the first place. And yes, a safety tandem of Weddle-Sanders sprinkled with the contribution of future Pro-Bowler Darrell Stuckey will provide the defensive playmaking this team has sorely lacked. The real question then becomes, will the team re-sign ILB Burnett? The thought here is they will find a way to re-sign Weddle AND Burnett (this was cemented during the Indy game this year).

The team will eventually find a way to re-sign Floyd along with Weddle and Burnett but, like it or not, Cesaire...gone, Buster...gone, Cooper...gone, Travis Johnson...gone, Siler...gone, Sproles...gone, Clary...gone. In their places, you will see this draft class:

Round 1 - Trade down to get 4th/5th round pick. Will select OT (Carimi, Solder, Costanzo).
Round 2a - ILB Martez Wilson
Round 2b - RB Kendall Hunter
Round 3a - WR Greg Little
Round 3b - OLB Chris Carter
Round 4 - (contingent on round 1 trade down) DE Pierre Allen

HIxster said... Mar 8, 2011, 1:39:00 PM

It surprises me that the Spanos family wants the community to feel enough "affection" for the franchise that it would sacrifice major tax dollars to keep them, but during those same decisive years would employ such a curmudgeon to sit center stage and provide such a churlish impression of the club. It's a shame he has to have such a closed door, such a closed mind to interacting with people. That's been his choice of image and to his career dying day he seems intent on being the Jack Palance / Curly version of touchy feely. It is a tactic that most in business would say was abandoned 20-30 years ago as a way of negotiating for long term health. It also leaves the community feeling it's condemned to be attached to a team that will underperform from lack of that unity and commitment. You've made them hired guns, Curly, not family.

Dwierck said... Mar 8, 2011, 7:41:00 PM

Why does AJ have to be such a hard ass? He could of stated his stance with a much more open and less provacative statement. Im baffled that he's baffled instead of we will clarify our position and try to avoid any misunderstandind there may be and gladly clear up any confusion. Aleays his hard guy attitude I'm so sick of it.

ChargerBlogger said... Mar 9, 2011, 7:09:00 AM

RE: flash19sd- you don't trade back in the 1st round if all you can get is an extra 4th round pick. AJ will get crucified by the fans if he pulls a stunt like that. Otherwise I like your take, although I think they like Clary a lot more than most fans do.

Jjamesnaz said... Mar 9, 2011, 7:36:00 PM

Weddle has to be the top priority right now. He's a leader on the defense and has proved that he's worth a long term deal. As far as the other free agents, Clary will be back (unfortunately), I think one ILB will be back (I'd like to see Cooper but it's looking like Burnett), and I think Siler will be back as well (they already tendered him so will get something if he leaves)

Mingo8 said... Mar 10, 2011, 5:04:00 PM

AJ isn't that hard to read, and is very consistent, as stated. However, the article doesn't mention Gates, his holdout, suspension or subsequent long-term deal. What GM in his right mind would not have wanted to re-sign Gates? But, AJ made it clear; sign your tender, show up and act like you want to be a Charger (read: work), and we'll get to work on a long-term contract. Anyone remember when your word actually meant something? Apparently, AJ does. Is there any win-win negotiating going on these days? Seems like, now it's all about who's being disrespected. Sorry, I digress. I'll be the first to admit that VJ was caught in the unfortunate timing of events related to the CBA. However, if VJ had signed his tender, he would definitely be a few million dollars richer, and possibly have a long-term contract in his back pocket right now. Who knows how Charger history would have been re-written. Look at McNeil under the same CBA circumstances as VJ. McNeil now has contract. Weddle was my pick for the Chargers to select in the second round of the draft, and I'd love for him to stay. However, my advice to Weddle (if he wants to remain a Charger): Sign your tender; show up and act like you want to be a Charger. The contract will happen.

elsoriano7 said... Mar 17, 2011, 12:03:00 PM

"Eloquence and grace may not be his strong suit, but Smith’s shrewd tactics have produced results on the field for the bulk of his tenure as Bolts’ GM."

-EXACTLY!!!-

as in shrewd... he means shiesty... really reward your players that have made an impact to the team instantly... don't just test them if they want to be a Charger and make them sign a low-ball deal... Give them a deal they deserve... I'm sure they want to be a Charger if they played well enough on the field as a Charger... GEEZ!!! A SHIESTY-ASS GM if you tell me.

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