Window Closing On Bolts? … Sunday Cup O’Chiefs

What is it about the San Diego Chargers that this team has won so many games, drafted and developed so many outstanding players in the last half-decade, but has no Vince Lombardi Trophy to show for all that success?

It’s a situation Chiefs fans are familiar with, because in the 1990s their team dominated the division, won over 100 games and had only miniscule post-season success.

Now, as the Chiefs and Chargers get ready to face off in the 2010 season opener Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium, these teams are at opposite ends of the AFC West and have been now for some time. With head coach Norv Turner (left) at the helm, San Diego rules the roost, while Kansas City has leased the basement apartment for three years now.

Last year, the Chargers embarrassed the Chiefs, not once, but twice. They rolled into Arrowhead in October and grab a 30-point victory. Then later in the season, San Diego was the site for a 29-point victory by the Lightning Bolts.

That 59-point difference is the worst division beat down in the same season in 50 years of Texans-Chiefs football. (Check chart below.)

But over the last five or six seasons, there may not have been a better time for the Chiefs to face the Chargers than now, to open the ’10 season.

All that Chargers success has come with a price.  

In this case the price hasn’t been high enough. Two of San Diego’s best players, WR Vincent Jackson and LT Marcus McNeil will not be with the team for this game, or possibly any games this season. Both are restricted free agents who were unhappy with the tender offers made to them by the Chargers. Both have vowed to sit out the entire season if need be, although it’s more likely that they’ll come back in the 11th week of the Chargers season; that would allow Jackson and McNeil to gain another season of experience under NFL rules.

Gone is LaDainian Tomlinson, for so long the heart and offense of the Chargers; he’s in New York, where he’ll play out his career with the Jets. Also with the Jets is CB Antonio Cromartie, who just two seasons ago led the league in interceptions with eight. OLB Shawne Merriman is dealing with an Achilles injury that looks like it will keep him out of Monday night’s game.

Age, money, injuries have chipped away at the talented home-grown roster of the Chargers. Their depth no longer gives them the freedom to simply allow starters to leave when they get older or want more money. But enough talent remains on the San Diego roster that it’s nearly unanimous with NFL watchers that they are the favorite to win their fifth straight division title and sixth in seven years. QB Phillips Rivers, RB Darren Sproles, TE Antonio Gates, OLB Shaun Phillips, CB Quentin Jammer and one of the best pair of kickers in the league with K Nate Kaeding and P Mike Scifres. Turner is among the better offensive strategists in the league.

The situation with Jackson and McNeil has focused a lot of attention in southern California on general manager A.J. Smith and the team’s handling of contracts and the money under the ownership of the Spanos family. Team president Dean Spanos talked this week to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the contract situation and it’s obvious he doesn’t feel there’s any problem with the way the situation is being handled by his front office.

“No one or two players are above the entire team,” Spanos told the newspaper. “It just doesn’t work that way. What if they were here and got hurt the first game? What do you do then? Do you just give up? The ship has sailed. We’re going.

“I was part of all the process,” Spanos added. “I know exactly what our position was and why we made the decisions we made. This was a collective discussion. There was no dissension. We all agreed this was the right course of action.”

Jackson and McNeill, like former Chiefs safety Jarrad Page, were caught in the changing labor landscape between the owners and the player’s union. Instead of being unrestricted free agents as they would have been under old rules, they were restricted free agents. The Chargers did not offer long-term deals, instead making one-year tender offers of $3.268 million for Jackson and $3.168 for McNeill.

When neither player signed off on the tenders by the middle of June, the Chargers reduced their offers, as they could under NFL rules. If they signed today with the Chargers, McNeill would receive $481,000 and Jackson $377,000.

“They have put themselves in this position,” said Spanos of the players. “We did not put them in this position. We tendered them the highest possible offer we could, which was $3.2 or $3.3 million, which far exceeded their previous four years salaries. They had months to go out and find a team to play for. They didn’t, or couldn’t. They elected at the end of months to not sign the tender. That’s the end of the story.

“It was a business decision they made. I wish they were here, I wish they were playing for us. I believe they need to sign the tenders and come in and see what happens after that.”

When it comes to the business of making decision on football personnel, it’s hard to argue with what the Chargers have done since 2003 when Smith took over for the late John Butler. It was Smith that engineered the first-round draft day trade when he sent QB Eli Manning to the New York Giants for Rivers and draft choices that became Merriman and Kaeding. Also in 2003 the Chargers signed three college free agents in Kris Dielman, Gates and Kassim Osgood. All three ended up making the Pro Bowl. In 2006, there were 11 Chargers on the AFC team in the Pro Bowl.

Other than Smith’s freakish inability to get along with Marty Schottenheimer, he’s made very few missteps over the years. The Chargers have been able to find talent and develop it, through the draft and college free agents. Of the 22 starters on offense and defense Monday night against the Chiefs, 12 were San Diego draft choices, including five first-round picks: RB Ryan Mathews (’10), OLB Merriman (’05), DE Luis Castillo (’05), CB Antoine Cason (’08) and Jammer (’02).

Yet a remarkable seven starters came to the Chargers as college free agents. There’s one unrestricted free agent in LB Kevin Burnett, one trade involving Rivers and then street free agent DT Antonio Garay.

Consider the Chiefs starters – nine are K.C. draft picks, with six first-round choices: WR Dwayne Bowe (’07), LT Branden Albert (’08), DE Glenn Dorsey (’08), DE Tyson Jackson (’09), ILB Derrick Johnson (’05) and OLB Tamba Hali (’06). But they have developed only one college free agent into a starter, ILB Jovan Belcher. The rest of the starters came through various forms of veteran free agency and trades.

Offensively, the Chargers have always been strong on the run and in the air, a fairly balanced attack when they need to be balanced. Defensively, they’ve done a real good job in the 24 games since Ron Rivera took over as defensive coordinator; San Diego has an 18-6 record since Rivera took over for the fired Ted Cottrell, who had a more conservative defensive approach.

“Since we made the switch I think we’ve improved all the way along,” Turner said of his defense. “Sometimes in sports you remember something being different than it really was. I like what our guys are doing defensively. We know the things we need to get better at. We want to get more pressure. We want to be aggressive. But ultimately we want to keep teams out of the end zone.”

For the most part, what the Chargers have done is dominate the AFC West, and especially they’ve dominated the Kansas City Chiefs.

8 Responses to “Window Closing On Bolts? … Sunday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • September 12, 2010  - el cid says:

    Loved “All that Chargers success has come with a price”. Would every Chief’s fan have loved to paid that? We did with the loses to make the Chargers look that good.

    Now we have Clark, Pioli, Jackson (dump in the rest of the 09 draft less Succop, too), and Cassel and you have to wonder just what we are paying for? I remember now, just wait till after 2012, right Michael? Yeah, sure, seems I remember the royALs were always just waiting a few more years and where has that paid off? SINCE 1985.

    The real price is paid in full by the fans and the Chiefs are crawling forward and may never deliver.

  • September 12, 2010  - Rick says:

    I thought Jackson got traded?

  • September 12, 2010  - el cid says:

    Still on roster, probably starting DE (I think). A kid with potential to be decent, should not have been the 3rd player picked in ’09, just not close to that level of a pick.

  • September 12, 2010  - el cid says:

    You heard it here first, the Chiefs can win MNF. How you ask? Hank Stram played a game with no WRs, a double TE set and ran the ball. He did it once. I suggest Haley run on offense like he did not have a healthy WR. If he can run, he can win with SD’s offense staying off the field. Not sure the defense can hold up if the offense goes three and out repeatedly.

  • September 12, 2010  - aPauled says:

    By “Jackson”, Rick was referring to Vincent Jackson. No, he hasn’t been traded although the Vikings are rumored to be interested.

    I’m waiting impatiently to findout what the focus of the offense is Monday. There is some reason that we have 2 FBs on the roster when we rarely used FBs in the preseason. Some surprise may be coming. Could it be some power running by Thomas/Charles/Battle with a FB lead changed up by getting McCluster and Charles in space? Haley and Weiss have had a lot of time to put together a show for prime time. Come on Monday night.

  • September 12, 2010  - Chuck says:

    Feel free to critisize me but I look at Dorsey (who I love by the way) and Tyson Jackson and see 2 guys making about 10 million a year each and I say they better kick some ass this year!!!!! They need to “earn” their paychecks!!!!!!!!! The way the Chargers completely embarrassed us last year was quite frustrating.

  • September 12, 2010  - el cid says:

    Not at all sure but Dorsey could be in the wrong type defense. Not his fault, might have been great in a standard 4-3. I doubt we will ever know unless he preforms after he leave KC> Jackson, like I said, a good kid, just Pioli’s mistake and i cannot figure out the “why” behind the pick especially if you add Magee behind it. It made no sense.

  • September 12, 2010  - Michael says:

    Put simply, no, better in 2010: 7 to 9 wins. Who knows, that might get you into the playoffs in the AFC West this year. Playoffs IN 2011.

    It seems things get lost in translation when the posts are too long.

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