<strong>July 13, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.chargers.com/news/headline_detail.cfm?news_key=2193">Chargers.com</a>
With training camp just around the corner, things are relatively quiet around Chargers Park. The coaching staff and most of the players are taking advantage of their final days of freedom before their lives are filled with two-a-day practices and endless film sessions.
But one place that rarely experiences a lull in activity is the office of General Manager A.J. Smith. After a brief vacation, the 2004 NFL Executive of the Year was back behind the desk where so many successful decisions have been made.
The Chargers' transaction list might not be as long as it has been in previous years, but that doesn't mean the offseason has been any less hectic for Smith.
"We are always trying to find ways to make our football team better," Smith said. "There is the waiver wire, and people are cut each and every day. We have to be on top of things."
The Chargers return all 22 starters from their 2004 AFC West championship squad, and Smith is excited about the group that Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer has to work with. Despite having a significant amount of salary cap room, safety Bhawoh Jue was the only new player the Chargers added during the free agency period.
"Fans shouldn't read into the fact that we were quiet or inactive," Smith said. "Just because you have money doesn't mean that you have to spend it. If there are players available that we like, we'll be involved. There just didn't happen to be a whole lot of folks that we were interested in this offseason."
While there weren't many new bodies added to the roster, Smith spent an extensive amount of time making sure that key contributors to the '04 squad would be around for the long haul. The Chargers were able to reach agreements on contract extensions with defensive tackle Jamal Williams, wide receiver Keenan McCardell, and linebacker Steve Foley. In addition, quarterback Drew Brees signed a one-year deal after being designated the club's franchise player.
The Bolts also resigned safety Jerry Wilson, linebacker Carlos Polk, defensive end Jacques Cesaire, tight end Justin Peele, running back Jesse Chatman, defensive end DeQunicy Scott, wide receiver Kassim Osgood, and offensive linemen Kris Dielman, Bob Hallen, and David Brandt.
Smith had a short list of players that he deemed worthy of pursuing in free agency. He landed one of those in Jue, and after things fell through with others on his wish list, Smith found other avenues to upgrade his roster.
"There were a couple of guys that we liked, one of them being Allen Rossum and the other being Bhawoh Jue," Smith said. "We ended up getting Jue, and when things didn't work out with Rossum, we addressed the return game by attaining Darren Sproles in the draft."
While the Chargers stood pat for the most part, their division rivals were very busy this offseason. The Raiders made headlines by signing Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan, the Chiefs overhauled their defense, and the Broncos made several moves that they hope will help get them over the hump.
"What everyone is trying to do is get the best football players that they can," Smith said. "A year ago, we made several moves to get ourselves into a position to compete. We made a couple of trades to bring in Roman Oben and Jamar Fletcher. We made one trade at the eleventh hour, right before the trading deadline to acquire Keenan McCardell. We brought in guys like Steve Foley and Mike Goff through free agency. When people talked about us last year, they said, â€˜Wow, there's a lot of activity.' It's a year to year study. We did what we felt was best for our football team, and like I've continually said, we like what we've got."
As training camp approaches, teams still have the opportunity to make changes to their roster. The NFL will hold a supplemental draft on Thursday for special-case college players that didn't enter April's draft, but it's yet to be determined whether or not the Chargers will participate.
"We're evaluating players," Smith said. "There are a handful of guys available, and we're discussing them right now. We'll make a decision at a later date whether or not we'll participate. Sometimes we do get involved, sometimes we don't."
In addition to the supplemental draft, there are several veteran players that are still looking for work. Smith said that it's unlikely that the Chargers will make any moves prior to the start of camp, but with the unpredictability that the salary cap era brings to the NFL, he can't make any promises.
"We're always looking, but it appears right now that this is probably the team that we will go to training camp with," Smith said. "Players are cut everyday. Whether we'll react to it, I have no clue. It depends on the name, the circumstances, and the situation. It's not like we're absolutely done. I have no idea who will be released today. There could be a veteran let go today that could become a Charger. You never know. My attitude is that we're looking all the time."
In addition to watching the waiver wire, Smith continues to work on hammering out a contract for exclusive rights free agent Antonio Gates. Despite not being under contract, the 2004 Pro Bowler participated in all of the team's offseason workouts. Both sides are pleased with how negotiations have transpired.
"It's ongoing," Smith said. "We started discussing a contract with him and his agent about mid-season last year. It's been great, and it's still ongoing."
As the 2005 season sneaks up, Smith said that he can start to feel the excitement. His thoughts have turned toward the hopes and goals of the entire organization.
"The bar has been set high," Smith said. "We won 12 games and a divisional title last year, but it's a new year. Last year is over and done, and we can forget about it. It's time to focus on '05. I think we've got a hungry bunch of hardworking people here who felt a little bit of success last year and felt wonderful about it. We've come a long way in a year. We know the perception of the San Diego Chargers prior to that, and hopefully that feel good will keep everyone focused and motivated to do it again."