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!
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