Personnel File: San Diego Chargers

Personnel leader – Executive Vice President-GM A.J. Smith is in his 13th season with the Chargers, 27th in the NFL and ninth year in charge of the San Diego roster and picking players for the team. He took over when GM John Butler passed away from cancer early in 2003. Butler left Buffalo where he helped put together those Bills teams that were in the Super Bowls, and took over the Chargers in 2001. It was in 2002 that Butler hired Marty Schottenheimer as his head coach. Smith is known for his brusque style that has won him few friends in the NFL among players, other teams and especially agents. His feud with Schottenheimer went beyond bounds and Smith engineered the head coach’s firing and the hiring of Norv Turner. Although he’s drafted and acquired some of the best players in the league in his tenure, the Chargers have not won a Super Bowl. In fact, since Smith took over, the team’s record in the post-season is 3-5 in five appearances over eight seasons.

Key aides – Executive V.P. of Football Operations/Assistant GM Ed McGuire (24 NFL seasons); Director of Player Personnel Jimmy Raye, Jr. (16); Director of College Scouting John Spanos (16); Director of Pro Scouting Dennis Abraham (16); Senior Executive Randy Mueller (26).

Personnel department – 13 scouts and player-personnel designated people. Two former pro football players are part of that group: National Scout Tom McConnaughey (WR in USFL) and college scout Paul Skanski (WR in NFL) with Seattle Seahawks.

Personnel philosophy – Under Smith, the attention in the department goes to the NFL Draft and college free agents. Over the years, the Chargers have had great success in developing undrafted rookies into not only contributing players, but Pro Bowlers like WR Malcom Floyd, G Kris Dielman, TE Antonio Gates and contributors like SS Steve Gregory, RB Mike Tolbert and DE Jacques Cesaire. There are few teams in the league that can match their developmental process with the undrafted rookies.

Salary cap status – In mid-October, the Chargers were $4 million under the league’s salary cap number.

Big-money contracts – QB Philip Rivers, 7-year, $98.25 million; LT Marcus McNeill, 6-year, $48.98 million; FS Eric Weddle, 5-year, $40 million; TE Antonio Gates, 6-year, $39.8 million.

Soon to be available/starters without 2012 contracts – WR Vincent Jackson, RB Michael Tolbert, FB Jacob Hester, C Nick Hardwick, SS Steve Gregory, NT Antonio Garay.

ROSTER THIS WEEK (starters in bold)

Draft choices (25)

1st-round (5) – DE Corey Liuget (2011), RB Ryan Mathews (2010), CB Antoine Cason (2008), DE Luis Castillo (2005), CB Quentin Jammer (2002).

2nd-round (4) – CB Marcus Gilchrist (2011), FS Eric Weddle (2007), LT Marcus McNeill (2006), WR Vincent Jackson (2005).

3rd-round (6) – WR Vincent Brown (2011), CB Shareece Wright (2011), ILB Donald Butler (2010), RG Louis Vasquez (2009), FB Jacob Hester (2008), C Nick Hardwick (2004).

4th-round (4) – SS Darrell Stuckey (2010), DE Vaughn Martin (2009), OL Tyronne Green (2009), OLB Shaun Phillips (2004).

5th-round (2) – DT Cam Thomas (2010), P Mike Scifres (2003).

6th-round (2) – OL Steve Schilling (2011), RT Jeromey Clary (2006).

7th-round (2) – ILB Andrew Gachkar (2011), OL Scott Mruczkowski (2005).

Supplemental Draft (1)

4th-round (1) – S Paul Oliver (2007).

Draft overview – This has been the guts of the Chargers approach and there was a period where Smith was on target with a lot of his selections. Finding fourth-round starters in DE Vaughn Martin and OLB Shaun Phillips shows some depth of evaluation. He found contributing running backs in Darren Sproles (4th) and Michael Turner (5th). There have been a few busts along the way as well; WR Buster Davis was San Diego’s first-round choice in 2007 and he did not provide the Chargers offense with much production. Right now, eight of 14 players selected in the 2009-10 drafts are still with the team. But only 6 players remain from the 20 selected in the 2006-08 drafts.

Trades (3)

WR Patrick Crayton (2010), QB Billy Volek (2006), QB Philip Rivers (2004).

Trade overview – Smith pulled off one of the bigger trades in the NFL over the last decade when he drafted Eli Manning and traded him to the N.Y. Giants for Philip Rivers, a 3rd-round choice (2004) and 1st-round and 5th-round picks (2005). It’s hard to argue with that trade, as Rivers is the more skilled quarterback and yes Manning has a Super Bowl ring. San Diego has been good at dealing veterans away before they have completely lost their value. That includes getting a 5th-round choice for LB Junior Seau in 2003 and getting 2nd and 3rd-round selections for CB Antonio Cromartie. Smith was also able to get a draft choice and significant swap of positions in the second round for little used QB Charlie Whitehurst.

Unrestricted free agents (2)

LB Takeo Spikes (2011), OLB Travis LaBoy (2011).

College free agents (12)

OLB Darryl Gamble (2011), WR Richard Goodman (2010), LS Mike Windt (2010), WR Bryan Walters (2010), RB Curtis Brinkley (2010), RB Mike Tolbert (2008), OT Brandon Dombrowski (2008), SS Steve Gregory (2006), WR Malcom Floyd (2004), G Kris Dielman (2003), TE Antonio Gates (2003), DE Jacques Cesaire (2003),

Street free agents (10)

K Nick Novak (2011), DE Tommie Harris (2011), LB Gerald Hayes (2011), LB Na’il Diggs (2011), TE Kory Sperry (2010), TE Randy McMichael (2010), OLB Antwan Barnes (2010), DT Antonio Garay (2009), DE Ogemdi Nwagbuo (2009), CB Dante Hughes (2009),

Free agent overview – The Chargers have not spent much time or money playing the free agent game and that’s served them well over the years. UFA’s are infrequent additions in San Diego. But when it comes to developing their own with college free agents, the Chargers do a remarkable job and essentially added an entire draft class over the years in undrafted players who went on to earn spots in the starting lineup.

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