2010 NFL Free Agency Preview: San Diego Chargers

Today's free agency preview is new and improved with (hopefully) no typos. Now that we're getting closer to the actual start of free agency, teams have started making tender offers to players. As such, I've been able to include that information in this preview. Hopefully, I'll be able to go back and compile a list of all the tender offers made by teams.

We'll be taking a look at the San Diego Chargers, and all that free agency has in store for them. In my estimation their biggest concern, outside of finding a running back, should be locking up Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill. Both of these players received a 1st and 3rd-round tender offer so it seems likely that they will be back for at least 2010. However, I think it would be a smart move if the team locks them up long-term this off-season. Obviously there are always risks involved in a situation like this: mental make-up, character flaws, injury concerns, but these two guys have proven that they can produce so why not keep your foundation in place?

Aside from that, there is the obvious storyline of the running back exodus from San Diego. Sproles and Tomlinson will both be playing elsewhere in 2010, something I will talk more about in the summary.

Also, I'd like to get a read on what people think about Shawne Merriman. His stock seems to have plummeted recently, but he is not happy about being tendered a contract. It's clear that Merriman wants a lucrative free agent deal, but is he deserving of one? Should he take his 3+ Million dollar salary and be quiet? Let us know in the poll below.

We take a look at the Chargers' free agents after the jump...

Free Agents

LB Antwan Applewhite (ERFA) - Applewhite is a reserve linebacker and was only active for one game in 2009 before being placed on IR.

T Jeromey Clary (RFA) - Clary's season ended early due to injury, but he is expected to reclaim his starting right tackle position in 2010. He could face competition from his replacement, Brandyn Dombrowski.

ILB Tim Dobbins (RFA) - Dobbins compiled 53 total tackles as a part of the inside linebacker rotation.

DL Antonio Garay (RFA) - Garay is a journeyman who was signed off the Jets' practice squad.

C Eric Ghiaciuc (RFA) - Ghiaciuc was signed to provide depth on the interior of the offensive line. He has struggle with pass protection in the past.

LB Marques Harris (RFA) - The 49ers' castoff was picked up to provide help on special teams.

WR Vincent Jackson (RFA: 1st and 3rd Round tender) - Jackson posted his second consecutive 1,000 receiving season in 2009. Although he has been tremendously productive, other teams might be scared away by his two DUI offenses. Although it remains a possibility, the Chargers are not expected to sign him to a long term deal this off-season.

DL Travis Johnson (RFA: Low tender) - As a former first round pick, San Diego will receive a second rounder if Johnson signs on with another team. He should return to the Chargers in 2010 and is expected to compete for a starting job, while earning $1.22 Million.

LT Marcus McNeill (RFA: 1st and 3rd Round tender) - McNeill is the anchor on San Diego's offensive line. He is a proven commodity at left tackle and the team is expected to offer him a long-term contract.

OLB Shawne Merriman (RFA: 1st and 3rd Round tender) - Merriman only managed to record 4 sacks in 2009. His struggles in the past few seasons may have been due to injuries, but the team is not sold on him as a long term option at linebacker. He will need to regain his explosiveness if he hopes to sign a more lucrative contract next off-season.

WR Kassim Osgood (UFA) - Osgood has been relegated to special-teams role in San Diego. He wants to get a chance as a wide-out, but his lack of a track record should limit his appeal on the open market.

RB Darren Sproles (UFA) - Sproles is expected to garner around $5 Million annually on the open market. He is considered to be one of the top backs in this free agent class, due to his pass catching and return ability. The Washington Redskins are rumored to be interested in him as a third-down back/kick returner.

FB Mike Tolbert (ERFA) - Tolbert only had 25 rushes in 2009, but he did average 5.9 yards per carry. He is also a solid special-teams player.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (UFA) - There is no doubt that LT is on the backside of his career, but he should still draw interest from several teams. The question is what kind of role is he willing to accept? His best chance to start may be with his friend Mike Shanahan in Washington.

QB Charlie Whitehurst (RFA)

Needs

Running Back - With the departure of Darren Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers now have a gaping hole in their backfield. Given the success they had in 2009, it seems likely that San Diego will continue to rely on their dynamic passing game. However, is imperative that they find a back who can keep defenses honest. They don't need a superstar, but they will definitely add somebody.

Right Tackle/Right Guard - The Chargers' running game suffered in part due to inconsistent run blocking. To help solidify the line, San Diego could look for an upgrade at right tackle or guard this off-season. However, I'm not entirely sure that it will be a top priority. I could see them letting Clary and Dombrowski compete at the tackle position and hope that the competition improved their play. There are also rumors that Dombrowski could slide over to guard though, so we'll just have to wait and see how everything plays out. Perhaps they will bring in another player and let the three of them battle it out for two spots on the right side of the line.

Nose Tackle - The Chargers' defense struggled without NT Jamal Williams in 2009. They need to secure a player who can fill in if Williams is not back at full strength in 2010.

Cornerback - The team is rumored to be shopping CB Antonio Cromartie, and they could stand to gain some depth at the position. If Cromartie does leave via trade, the Chargers will need to ensure that they have a capable replacement ready.

Defensive End - The addition of a true 3-4 defensive end should up shore up San Diego's defensive line. Think Justin Smith, not Julius Peppers.

Linebacker - San Diego will look to add depth to their linebacker corp.

Summary

The San Diego Chargers have long been considered one of, if not the most talented team in the NFL. As that talent ages, the team will be faced with important decisions concerning which players to keep and which players to let go.

One example of this is the departure of one LaDainian Tomlinson. LT has been a fixture in San Diego for many years, and it seems strange to be talking about the running back position as a need for the Chargers. This is an area where I could see them relying on a 3rd-4th round draft pick to come in and compete for the starting position with a veteran. There are numerous examples of running backs picked in the later rounds having an immediate impact, and this seems like the most economical route. Whoever is playing running back, San Diego's run-blocking will need to improve if their rushing game is going to get anywhere in 2010.

Of course, this would all become a mute issue if the Chargers really do end up trading CB Antonio Cromartie for a running back. Cromartie is one of the league's most talented cornerbacks, but he has been criticized for his gambling style of defense. As of yet, no teams have pulled the trigger on a deal, but he could draw more interest as the off-season progresses.

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