Deal means Chargers will go about their business


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Jan 22, 2006
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Deal means Chargers will go about their business

More money doesn't alter Bolts' strategy

By Kevin Acee

March 9, 2006

Finally, since for the Chargers that whole Collective Bargaining Agreement mess wasn't really going to have an immediate effect either way, free agency is expected to begin tonight.

The NFL owners and the players union agreed yesterday to extend the CBA through 2012, commencing the start of the new league year one minute after 9 o'clock this evening.

That is when quarterback Drew Brees can officially begin talking to other teams.

And that is when the Chargers will begin to attempt to upgrade their secondary and perhaps their offensive line, the two spots that let them down in a disappointing 9-7 season in 2005.

Usually available and typically candid, General Manager A.J. Smith has gone underground the past week-and-a-half. Just short of being publicly dressed down by team President Dean Spanos for his part in an ongoing row with head coach Marty Schottenheimer, Smith has not returned phone messages during that span.

However, not much has changed since Smith went mum. The team's needs have not changed, and the Chargers always had plenty of money, wherever the salary cap fell.

Late last month, asked about the ramifications of the CBA, Smith was ebullient about where his team sat.

“It doesn't impact us at all because we're in a great situation,” he said. “It really impacts an awful lot of teams in this league, and it's a serious matter. For the Chargers, we're all set.”

Where almost half of the NFL appeared it might have been in a fiscal jam had a new CBA not been agreed upon and the salary cap stayed at $94.5 million, the Chargers were good either way.

Their current cap number is around $75 million. Now that the cap is expected to be roughly $102 million, that leaves the Chargers with more than enough room to spend on their restricted free agents, draft picks and possible free-agent signings.

What they will likely not be using any of that money for is a contract for Brees.

While it has been Smith's public sentiment that once Brees hit the free-agent market his time as a Charger was finished, the two sides could continue to communicate. But Brees' agent, Tom Condon, has said he doesn't “foresee much chance of anything happening.”

It is known that Brees and Spanos met recently at Brees' request. Spanos declined to elaborate on that meeting, saying through a spokesman that it was private.

Although in February, Smith said, “We have a lot of money to do a lot of things,” no one should think the team will be remade in the coming weeks, because two factors must be considered – even beyond the fact that the Chargers are not too many players from being a strong Super Bowl contender.

Smith prefers to build through the draft, so it is unlikely the Chargers will max out the credit card signing free agents. And at the positions the Chargers desire help – secondary and offensive line – the free-agent market is somewhat thin.

Smith acknowledged he wants to bring in defensive backs for “competition” and a tight end for depth, and he is looking to upgrade the offensive line.

However, the left tackle the Chargers desire as an eventual replacement for Roman Oben is more likely to be found in the draft. The Chargers are believed to be interested in free-agent center LeCharles Bentley, who played for New Orleans last season and would likely move to guard here.

Among the free-agent safeties the Chargers are expected to target is Marlon McCree, recently of Carolina, a playmaker who could supplant free safety Bhawoh Jue.

As for Brees, he is now the top free-agent quarterback. Miami is at the head of a group believed to have strong interest in him, including Detroit, Minnesota, New Orleans and Oakland.

Another team that wants him will have to find room under the cap for him, and it will have to do so while assuming a certain amount of risk he might not be ready for the start of the season.

James Andrews, the surgeon who operated on Brees in January, said he expects Brees to “participate at a high level as a quarterback” in 2006. But Brees will not begin throwing lightly until May, and there is no certainty he will be throwing routes by training camp.

The Chargers have expressed “concern” about the timing of Brees' return, and other teams will have similar reservations.
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