Chargers' buying spree delayed by labor strife


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Jan 22, 2006
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Chargers' buying spree delayed by labor strife

By: JAY PARIS - Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO ---- It's almost time for the Chargers to press their nose up against the NFL glass. "We will go window shopping and see what's going on out there," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said.

Free agency was scheduled to start today, although its beginning was delayed until Monday by the NFL amid the ongoing labor standoff. The delay was announced on Thursday, just hours after league owners rejected the latest proposal of the player's union regarding total compensation.

If a deal on a contract extension is not reached, the salary cap for 2006 will be $94.5 million ---- some $10 million less than anticipated.

As for the free-agent market, Smith is making noise that the Chargers will try to bolster the roster with an infusion of fresh faces. While most of the news lately has been on the status of quarterback Drew Brees, Smith is eager to lasso some players as well.

Chargers followers know which rocks Smith needs to look under. While the team went 9-7 last year, it missed the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years as numerous weaknesses were exposed.

The offensive line was inconsistent, some of which can be attributed to injuries. The pass defense was leaky, some of which can be attributed to first-rounders not playing to their pedigree. There's also a lack of depth at tight end, with Justin Peelle being allowed to look elsewhere and Ryan Krause ending the year on injured reserve.

When reaching for their wallet to entice recruits, the Chargers are in the deep-pocket category. They are some $20 million under the cap, which could make them a player in the annual offseason shopping binge ---- especially if the labor deal is not extended and several teams are forced to purge payroll to get to $94.5 million.

"We're exploring the possibility of looking to add some competition in the secondary, be it corner or safety,'' Smith said of a unit that contributed to the team's 28th ranking against the pass. "I'd like to create some excitement back there and get some competition going.

"(We're looking) possibly at tight end for depth. We're a little thin there, so we're going to look around and see if we can do something at the tight end position.Ý

"And we're always, always looking at offensive line, in particular offensive tackle. There is the direction that we'll look at and we'll just explore."

Chargers players being allowed to test the market are wide receiver Reche Caldwell, cornerback Jamar Fletcher, offensive lineman Bob Hallen, linebacker Ben Leber, Peelle, defensive end DeQuincy Scott and Brees.

The Chargers will tender offers to their three remaining restricted free agents: linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm, and guard Kris Dielman. The Chargers can match any proposal they fetch, and if they opt to decline, they will receive compensation.

Patching up the secondary seems to be job No. 1, especially considering the unit had but seven interceptions last year. Cornerback Ty Law (Jets), who is available, had 10.

Other corners seeking jobs include: Ahmed Plummer (49ers), Sam Madison (Dolphins), Jerry Azumah (Bears), Will Allen (Giants) and Deshea Townsend (Steelers).

Among the safeties ---- the Chargers released one-time starter Jerry Wilson ---- available are: Adam Archuleta (Rams), Chris Hope (Steelers), Marlon McCree (Panthers), Lawyer Milloy (Bills) and Corey Chavous (Vikings).

At the tackle spot, among the interesting names are Jon Runyan (Eagles), Jeff Backus (Lions), L.J. Shelton (Browns), Jason Fabini (Jets) and Kenyatta Walker (Buccaneers).

The Saints' LeCharles Bentley, a standout center, is also worth watching. He is close to new Chargers line coach Jack Henry, his former position coach in New Orleans.

At tight end, the list includes Jeb Putzier (Broncos), Chris Baker (Jets), Dan Campbell (Cowboys), Chad Lewis (Eagles) and Aaron Shea (Browns).
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