SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Smith keeps emphasizing that his job is always to look forward -- something players and coaches can ill afford to do -- and on this day, that's just what he's doing. In front of the San Diego Chargers' general manager, and directly across from his mahogany desk, is a magnet board with 80 names stuck on it, organized in formation, by position and rank on the depth chart. Collectively, it represents as soundly built a roster, for this year and the future, as there is in the NFL. But Smith isn't admiring it. He's analyzing it. Dissecting his knowledge of it. Always. "You have to have an eye to the future," Smith said. "I'm two to three years out front. Constantly, I'm out front. That board you look at right there is what I look at every day. There are all the players on our team, and I know what players we have under contract, I know what players we don't. "I know when their contracts are running out. I know who's a backup and can only be a backup. I know who's a backup and has a chance to be a starter. I know who's a starter that should be a starter for 10 years, barring injury. All of that is in your mind as you prepare for the future and you build for the future." The roster is a model of stability. Take the Chargers' two-deep, including the kicker and punter. That's 46 players. Thirty-six, 18 of them starting position players, will be under 30 on opening day. Thirty-eight players on the two-deep, 20 of whom start, are signed through 2009. Twenty-seven guys on the two-deep, including 15 starters, are inked through 2010. The short of all this is what amounts to a master's course in roster building. The Chargers are Super Bowl contenders. And that doesn't figure to change for quite some time. But Smith's idea is to do more than win a Super Bowl. It's to be in the running for more than one. "You want to be a playoff-caliber team, each and every year," Smith said. "ALL the time. What does that mean? That means you're in the playoffs all the time. ... Well, if you are there all the time, that means you have a chance to win a world championship." The Chargers haven't done that yet. And that's why, in a conversation of close to an hour, Smith used the phrase, "We've done nothing," on six occasions without provocation. Still, progress is being made. Smith endured a barrage of catcalls after running off Marty Schottenheimer, only to hire a two-time castoff, Norv Turner, 18 months ago. Then, a franchise that hadn't won a playoff game since 1994 advanced through two rounds of "The Tournament" (Smith's term on loan from Bill Parcells) before falling to the then-unbeaten Patriots in the AFC title game. Again, Smith -- criticized in the past for dealing Eli Manning and letting Drew Brees walk -- was resolute in a decision and, ultimately, vindicated. He calls Turner's work in the divisional-round upset of the Colts one of the best coaching jobs he has seen and says his calm in the eye of a rash of injuries kept the team in the running to the end in New England. Which is just why he hired him. "Norv to me, which was very debatable at the time, is very, very smart, he's very creative," Smith said. "He has great poise under pressure. He's outstanding in those situations with game decisions that take place that sway a game back and forth." But no matter how much he credits Turner, the ability to compete through injuries in the playoffs has to do with the philosophy of Smith or any GM: Have good players on the roster. It's just that the Chargers' guy has done it better than most. Rivers had to come out of the Colts game. So Billy Volek won it. When LaDainian Tomlinson went down, Michael Turner and Darren Sproles were there to keep the ship sailing. And the blow of Antonio Gates' injury was softened somewhat by the presence of Brandon Manumaleuna. "That's why you build depth and try to fight, scratch and claw with the people you have," Smith said. "You just don't lose superstars and plug in superstars. I understand that. But have good, good football players." That's why the emphasis in San Diego isn't on having a handful of stars, though the Chargers clearly have their share of those. It's more about being as solid as possible from 1-53. And it's about rewarding the good players when you see they have a future. The most recent example is the case of defensive lineman Luis Castillo, drafted in the first round in 2005. He was signed through 2009. Yet, the club approached him with two years left on that rookie deal and struck a five-year extension that will keep Castillo a Charger through 2014, getting him on board before he could even think about hitting a high-end unrestricted market that Smith loathes to dip into. That is also a prime example of how business is done in San Diego. Bring players into the league, develop them and, just as soon as they prove their worth, lock them up. It's why 19 of the team's 22 starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense, plus the kicker and punter, have never played for another team. Of course, it's all predicated on drafting well, which, as is the case with his mentor Bill Polian, happens to be the forte of the former college scout Smith. "If you identify your talent and they're the right choices, they're young, they grow with you and they hang together, they learn your ways," Smith says. "They become Chargers. And then the key is, hopefully, you make that window continue on and they accept contracts. We did a lot of that in tune with the people we have, and you just keep growing together and moving forward." Next for San Diego is getting over that final hurdle and finally realizing this roster's enormous potential. But Super Bowl or bust? Not quite. This team figures to have plenty of shots at that one to come. "'Super Bowl or bust' is an expression I find comical," Smith said. "It's amusing, but I understand it. ... If you don't win a world championship this year, then you try again next year. And how do you try again next year? You win enough games to go, because if you don't, you're not going to have a chance. "Keep being a playoff-caliber team. Keep the program going. Keep the winning program going." Safe to say, for some time now, that's just what Smith has done.