Is GM A.J. Smith Going To Spend Big Money In Free Agency?

The Chargers have never been known as a team willing to spend beaucoup bucks on the free agent market, but it seems that those conceptions may be changing. Last offseason San Diego signed 15 free agents including re-signing a few of their own players at a total price tag in excess of $50 million in salary and bonuses for the 2011 league year.

That total was certainly out of the ordinary for the Bolts as the total number of free agents brought in from 2005 through 2010 combined didn’t add up to those signed last year. It might not be a stretch to think that General Manager A.J. Smith may actually spend even more cash this year trying to build a team capable of returning to the postseason.

With $20 million in cap space expected to be available for Smith to both re-sign the team’s own free agents and bring in some new faces from other clubs, this could be another active offseason in San Diego. The Bolts GM seems to be ready for some negotiating as well as he said: “It’s a terrific time to be looking in a number of areas.”

His newfound attitude toward spending the team’s cash on free agents may have been the result of his near dismissal following last year’s disappointing campaign. Smith has been a build through the draft type of GM during his time spent with the Chargers. Sources insist that Smith’s boss (team president Dean Spanos) is fully on board with the idea of building a team via the draft, but some believe that his statements during the announcement of his intentions to bring back both Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner following the 2011 season suggest otherwise.

Of Smith’s philosophies manning the GM position, Spanos said: “We do need to do some things differently in our player personnel selections going forward. Maybe in free agency you’re more proactive.” That definitely sounds like a hint to sign a few more high profile players in free agency rather than relying solely on the draft to replenish the club’s talent pool.

This year will be as good of a year as any to land some instant upgrades at the Bolts’ man positions of need. The Offensive line, outside linebacker, secondary, and wideout spots will all require some serious attention over the coming months. With a cap figure positioned well under the requirement for the upcoming league year coupled with those dire needs, Smith’s outlook on the free agent market may be quickly shifting. The man himself said: “Right now it could be open because of the holes we have and the depth (in the free agent market) at certain positions.”

While the struggles cannot all be pinned on Smith, he is the man in charge of assembling a team best suited to succeed together. His failure to do so with a 9-7 record in 2010 and an 8-8 mark for 2011 suggests that he is falling behind the curve when it comes to building the squad as necessary in the draft. Most pundits believed that management did a fine job of both retaining players and adding new pieces last year, but injuries can’t be predicted.

The aptitude to draft better and create a deeper team can greatly aid in masking the affect that injuries can have on a club however. Smith’s inability to provide the team with options should the projected starters suffer an unforeseen injury is definitely at least in part to blame for the difficulties experienced in 2011.

It’s hard to disagree with Smith when he says: “I like our philosophy and approach. I don’t want to change anything. I want to make better decisions. We need to hit on these players a little better.” It’s also difficult to see him retaining his job should he fail to do just that for the 2012 campaign.

The pressure is on the coaches, the players, and team management this year for a team with the expectations that have been placed on the Chargers during the better part of the past decade. It’s about time the parties involved start living up to those lofty goals before a rebuild from the top down is required to get things headed in the right direction.

Now it’s your turn. Do you think the Bolts allocated their resources correctly heading into last year and what would you do differently to experience success in 2012? Can GM Smith’s draft-first philosophy lead this team to the promised land or will they continue to fall woefully short unless they shell out some real money for key free agents? Do you blame Smith for the team’s struggles dealing with injuries last year or is that just the luck (or unluck) of the draw? Will the immense pressure on the entire organization be a good motivator for the coming year or a detriment to the team’s ultimate success? Have at it! Fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

February 21, 2012

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