The free agency free-for-all has begun across the NFL and the Chargers have been no slouches when it comes to making beneficial personnel moves during this critical time period. Priority number one was always thought to be safety Eric Weddle who many saw as Pro Bowl worthy in 2010 and the team quickly inked him to a 5-year, $40 million deal with $!9 million of it in guarantees. The deal makes Weddle the highest paid safety in the league for the time being and makes the Bolts’ secondary a formidable unit for the foreseeable future.
As always with big contracts, there are plenty of skeptics and second guessers proclaiming that giving the highest paid status to the latest player eligible for free agency is just a bad business move. Although it is easy to say that from the outside looking in perspective, the Bolts really had little choice when it came to their handling of Weddle. The former Utah Ute produced at career high levels across the board in 2010 and has been on the upward curve heading into his fifth NFL season.
Time will tell if the team overspent for a solid yet to this point unremarkable player with this contract, but for now all is well with Weddle as he prepares for what fans hope will be his best season yet learning under the wing of former All-Pro veteran safety Bob Sanders. According to the North County Times, the two safeties are already forming quite a rapport with one another analyzing playing styles and the subtle nuances of the safety position. Of working with Sanders, Weddle said: "There's a level of respect between us that's already evident. When he says something, I listen because it (is) most always the right thing to do. There must be a bond and an understanding between safeties, and that comes from watching film, hanging out as friends and taking reps on the practice field. Experience is key. Once we get on the practice field, you'll see tremendous growth." That growth that Weddle is alluding to could make a huge difference in the Bolts secondary making the correct reads and play diagnosis throughout the coming year on defense.
More dollars were thrown around later in the week by the Bolts front office on the defensive side of the ball with Takeo Spikes signing a deal to add yet another veteran presence to the San Diego locker room which desperately needs some experience and leadership. The idea of adding another inside linebacker to the mix was a virtual necessity with every man on the roster from a year ago at that position aside from the barely seen Donald Butler a free agent coming into the year. With Brandon Siler signing in Kansas City to play for a divisional rival and Kevin Burnett getting some premium money in a deal with the Dolphins, the Chargers may have to stop gap for at least one more year in terms of depth with veteran Stephen Cooper and hope for the best.
It was widely assumed that the Chargers would be both unwilling and unable to re-sign all of their big name free agents this offseason and that proved to be true with the speedy Darren Sproles signing to play in New Orleans this year. Rumors that Malcom Floyd has all but packed his bags to vacate San Diego have also surfaced with both the Jets and Ravens offering beaucoup bucks to the Bolts’ speedy outside threat. After cutting the long-time bust Buster Davis last week, the team has a definite need at the wide receiver position as on-field action looms ever nearer.
Fortunately one player the team was without for the bulk of the 2010 campaign is back to one hundred percent healthy as training camp gets into full swing. Wideout Patrick Crayton was acquired before the start of last season and quickly became one of quarterback Philip Rivers’ favorite targets before a scary looking wrist injury knocked him out for the rest of the year following the November 22nd game with the Broncos. After some tedious rehab to get back in action, Crayton is bringing a tremendous attitude with him to camp too as he told the North County Times: "I'm very excited about being back on the field and I'm excited about my role on this team. But, in my opinion, I'm back in rookie mode this year. I'm not bringing the luxury car to camp. I'm bringing the work truck. It's back to business for me. I can't wait to get started." That work ethic instills some real optimism in the receiving corps as a whole even though they will be without some key pieces from a year ago.
As far as potential targets for the team in the coming days, don’t be surprised if the front office looks to bring tight end Brandon Manumaleuna back to the Bolts this year. His run blocking was sorely missed last year and the Bears cut ties with the big-bodied road grader last week in a salary cap move. Given the fact that Antonio Gates’ lingering foot issue has landed him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list to begin the year, the team will need to find an insurance policy or two at the tight end spot just in case this problem is a chronic one.
Despite all of the question marks remaining with regular season action just a little over a month away, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2011 version of the Bolts. Players with All-Pro pedigrees and top class résumés have been added to the team in hopes of bringing a newfound desire and determination to a team that has often been questioned in that department. Hopefully these fresh faces will breath some new life into the Bolts’ locker room and give this club the chemistry necessary to get to the next level.
Now it’s your turn to weigh-in. Do you think the Chargers overpaid for Eric Weddle in the end or did they simply pay market value in a very inflated environment? Will Weddle continue to improve in 2011 under the tutelage of Bob Sanders or do you see him as a solid player who will never gain elite status? Would losing Malcom Floyd have a huge negative impact on the Chargers’ aerial attack or will Rivers be able to spread the ball around and overcome his absence? What do you think about brining Manumaleuna back to the Bolts in order to reestablish the running game? Will the veteran additions ultimately prove to be prudent decisions by the front office or will they be less than memorable by season’s end? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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