The Chargers Top Five Offseason Priorities

The Super Bowl is over; congratulations to the Giants or Patriots or whichever dumb team won the darned thing (the Giants, I know, yeah, yeah, yeah). Really, this year more than ever I was watching the thing for the commercials. But with the league championship game behind us, we can officially begin looking ahead toward the 2012 season and start to figure out what exactly the Chargers need to do to win it all.

1. Resign your guys before free agency begins.
Key free agents from last year's Chargers team include guys like Mike Tolbert, Antonio Garay, and Nick Hardwick, all players who are vital to the team’s success at their respective positions (We will get to Vincent Jackson in a minute). Veterans like Garay and Hardwick are both players who likely would rather stay in SD than test the free agent market, but do you really want to get into a bidding war with another team if Tolbert is allowed to test his value? He’s worth a decent payday, so resigning him at a reasonable price should be a no-brainer. Locking up these three players, plus other key role players like Randy McMichael would be a great start to the offseason.

2. Sign the best safety on the free agent market
The big question is not if the Chargers should set their sites on an impact player in free agency, but which players/positions should they focus on? If you take a quick look at the available offensive linemen, outside linebackers, and safeties potentially available in free agency, and compare that list to the talent available at the top of the NFL draft board, it’s pretty clear that finding a safety should be the Chargers’ top free agent priority.

Possible free agent options at safety include Dashon Goldson who had a career year for the 49ers, Tyvon Branch of the Raiders, or possibly LaRon Landry of the Redskins, who is coming off of an injury and may not be 100% by next season. Goldson or Branch, a healthy Landry, or another young and talented free agent safety would be a huge addition to the Chargers’ defense.

3. Draft the next Aldon Smith
In contrast to the previous argument for a free agent safety, the talent level available for an outside linebacker in the draft is looking good, especially compared against the free agent market. But I’m not asking for just any outside linebacker prospect. I’m asking for the next Aldon Smith or Von Miller type of player. It’s doubtful that the Chargers are going to find that level of talent at pick 18 in the first round, which means AJ needs to find a way to move up in the draft. Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw seems to be a great fit for the Chargers, but he probably won’t last beyond the Jets at pick 16, and may even slide into the top-ten if the Bills or Dolphins fall in love with him. Other options who seem beyond the Chargers’ reach at pick 18 include South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, and USC’s Nick Perry (he is falling right in the middle of the first round in a lot of draft projections).

4. Improve the talent level on the offensive line
Last season the Chargers proved you can’t have enough depth, and their aging and injured offensive line may be in need of an influx of talent. Left tackle Marcus McNeill is likely done as a Charger. Guard Kris Dielman should return, but his reliability will remain in question. Center Nick Hardwick is a free agent, and losing the stability that he brings would be a serious loss. Louis Vasquez and Jerome Clary will return, while Jared Gaither could be resigned but, based on his history, you have to wonder if he can maintain a high level of commitment for a whole season. With no starters in the wings, the Chargers need to begin building for the present and the future. There are some interesting names in free agency, but 2nd or 3rd round draft picks could bring some much needed help- names like Zebrie Sanders from Florida State, Brandon Washington from Miami, or Bobby Massie from Ole Miss.

5. Resign Vincent Jackson
I decided to give Jackson his own category because his signing may best fit here on the list of priorities in my opinion. VJ is a great player, and he is in sync with #17 like no one else next to Antonio Gates. But is he worth breaking the bank for? That’s the real question. There is no doubt that the team is better with Jackson, but how much is that worth against the salary cap? Is he worth a guaranteed $30 million or more? Is he worth $11+ million against the salary cap each year? It’s a question worth asking, because we have seen Rivers make lesser-known receivers look pretty good, and that amount of money may be better used in improving the defense. That being said, it makes no sense to franchise him for another year- that's money better spent on a long term deal if you want to retain Jackson.

The offseason is here- what are your priorities for the Chargers?

Follow me on Twitter: @JSWilliams75

February 6, 2012

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