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Chargers GM not afraid to play hardball

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 1, 2010.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

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    [​IMG]

    By Alex Marvez
    Fox Sports
    7-30-2010

    SAN DIEGO

    A.J. Smith doesn’t just draw a line in the sand during stalled contract negotiations.
    He paints a more graphic picture than any other NFL general manager.

    The Chargers expect to open training camp Friday with three key disgruntled veterans — wide receiver Vincent Jackson, left tackle Marcus McNeill and linebacker Shawne Merriman — and their unsigned first-round draft pick (running back Ryan Mathews) failing to report. No team, especially a bona fide Super Bowl contender, will have as many missing key pieces.

    Nor is there a more bombastic front-office executive willing to play such hardball until the situation is resolved.

    Even though his stance could cause locker-room derision, not to mention hurt San Diego’s on-field product, Smith says he has no concerns about potentially ruffling feathers.

    “The only way I can make a glorious, happy, fun-loving locker room is that every player and agent with every demand on every amount of money or length of (contract) is given it,” Smith said Wednesday inside his office at Chargers headquarters. “Then everyone is happy and I don’t have to worry about a trickle-down.”

    Smith then says the following with emphasis: “It’s not going to happen.”

    Not that Smith wants Jackson, McNeill, Merriman or Mathews as unhappy campers. He praised the quartet’s talent during an hour-long interview with FOXSports.com. He also didn’t try to downplay the impact of their prolonged absence. But if they are going to join the Chargers without a lengthy holdout, all four players will be doing so under San Diego’s financial terms.

    “The only thing that ever matters — ever — is the San Diego Chargers. Us,” Smith said. “If you don’t like the way you’re treated — me, your head coach, your teammates — you can get out on your own accord when your contract is up. That’s what you control.

    “If you’re a rookie and have a five-year or four-year (deal), and you’re miserable along the way, if I want to extend your contract, say you’re not interested. Clearly, I know the window. You’re going to get on the plane and go to another team. Plot your departure. It’s business. If I feel that, I will start making moves ahead of time.”

    An example came in the 2009 draft. San Diego used a first-round pick on Larry English as a potential replacement for Merriman, whose agent was told by Smith this offseason that there were no plans to extend his contract “at this point in time.” Set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2011, Merriman told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday that he won’t report for the start of camp. Merriman said he wants assurances about his immediate future with the team — he was the subject of offseason trade talks — and his place on the defense.

    The situation with Jackson and McNeill is even uglier. Agents for both also were told that long-term deals weren’t immediately in the offing. They responded by refusing to sign the one-year, $3.2 million contracts tendered by the Chargers as restricted free agents. In turn, Smith lowered their tender offers in June to roughly $600,000 apiece. This led to threats that Jackson and McNeill wouldn’t report until the 10th week of the season.

    “I’m not going to ignore that when I found out Vincent and Marcus have withheld services for a considerable length of time it’s a disappointment like, ‘Oh my goodness,’” Smith said. “Here are two guys who were part of the excitement that are missing. Now, there has to be a step-up (from others). I’m used to that, and I get over it very quickly. I’m still excited. We’re only talking about three players.”

    Mathews is the fourth, but Smith isn’t concerned about his early camp absence even though San Diego doesn’t have another workhorse rusher on the roster after releasing LaDainian Tomlinson in February. Rookie running backs can make an immediate impact even if some preseason practice time is missed. Besides, Smith knows he ultimately holds all the leverage when it comes to signing draft choices.

    Said Smith: “If there happens to be a problem for him, I’ll spell it out: ‘Here’s your money. Here’s your years. We think it’s a great contract. It is our contract. If you don’t like it, you can sit there and decide what’s best for you. But let me cut to the chase a little more and tell you how this will progress on our end. We will have a contract offer that will go to a certain point in time. After the third preseason game, you’re going to have a new one.

    After the fourth one, you’re going to have a new one. After the first (regular-season) game, you’re going to have a new one. If you don’t like all of that, you can go back in the draft.’
    “That’s it. You know the odds of people who go back in the draft. So eventually, somewhere along the line, he comes in.”

    This approach won’t win Smith a GM of the Year award from the agent community with which he has long bickered. I would have called the representatives for Merriman, Jackson, McNeill and Mathews asking for comment, but didn’t bother. I wasn’t being lazy. It just wouldn’t have mattered beyond adding another layer of rhetoric. And in Smith’s world, it wouldn’t have mattered one iota. Listening to his diatribe toward agents, I almost expected Smith to borrow a line from politicians and say, “We refuse to negotiate with terrorists.” :lol:

    “The agents have the power with the players,” said Smith, who has 24 years of pro scouting and front-office experience. “They prey on the weak. They fracture from within if they can — a coach, an owner and a GM. We don’t have those problems here.”
    Smith isn’t completely inflexible. Although he was embroiled in verbal sparring with Tom Condon during the end of Tomlinson’s time in San Diego, Smith still struck a deal Wednesday with one of the agent’s other clients, Antonio Gates.

    The agreement, which makes Gates the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, was in the works for some time. But the announcement’s timing does send a message to the other 15 pending unrestricted free agents who are reporting to camp on time: The Chargers do take care of some of their own.

    “A lot of people on this team are on the last year of their contract,” Smith said. “The players and the agents are fine. How can that be? First, they’ve got no control over it. But their attitudes – we’re going to come back and play and help the Chargers win and can hopefully stay if they want to or my profession is on the line — we have a lot of that. But we tend to focus in the media on the negative because it’s sensationalizing.”

    Should the Chargers falter in 2010, the media focus will shift to whether the 61-year-old Smith is the right man for the job. The Chargers have captured four consecutive AFC West titles under his watch, a remarkable total considering the franchise won the same amount in 24 seasons before Smith took the reins in 2003. He has built the team almost exclusively through the draft and wisely signs some quality picks well before their rookie contracts expire. But the Chargers have yet to reach a Super Bowl in the Smith era. The latest disappointment came last season when a 13-3 Chargers squad was upset in the playoffs by the visiting New York Jets.

    Smith has long cited the Indianapolis Colts as a model franchise. While they don’t always make the Super Bowl, the Colts have at least had a shot by making the playoffs for eight consecutive years.

    Smith, though, admits there is a local backlash building from those who don’t believe San Diego will ever have what it takes to reach the big one.

    “The attitude is, ‘These guys are chokers. Nobody cares anymore,’” he said. “I have to back everyone up. I hear ya. We’re frustrated, too. We’ll try and get better each year. That’s what we do.”

    One thing Smith won’t do is change his modus operandi when dealing with San Diego’s holdouts.

    “I’m the GM of the Chargers. You’re the agent and there’s the player. It’s a three-way thing,” Smith said. “If people come together, we all are happy.”

    At least, for now, that isn’t the case in what has the potential to become the NFL’s most toxic training camp environment.
     
  2. foober

    foober BoltTalker

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    mcneil and jacksons agents screwed them royally. Their careers are in jeopardy now. Merriman I think is just playing games and doesn't want to report till the last minute so he doesn't have to go through training camp.
     
  3. HEXEDBOLT

    HEXEDBOLT Don't like it, lump it!!!

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    There is nothing new in that article and it seems like I read it twice and it said the same thing. :icon_huh:
     
  4. Buck Melanoma

    Buck Melanoma Guest

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    Supposed journalists are lining up to take a shot at AJ like kids waiting for cotton candy. Gotta sell that news, right?

    On a more important note - Lindsay Lohan is out of jail. :icon_rofl:
     
  5. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

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    OOPS I fixed it...
     
  6. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Joined:
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