People talk all the time about a make-or-break year. But last year was supposed to be make or break for AJ Smith and Norv Turner. Even if management never considered severing (breaking?) ties with AJ and Norv, clearly the fan base thought they should, and the pair is worried. It shows in their behavior over the offseason – and might explain the team’s current predicament.
Let’s take stock: starting running back Ryan Mathews, already plagued by the ‘injury-prone’ label, left Thursday’s preseason opener with a broken collarbone. He’s out four to six weeks. Although no one at Chargers Park will say so, it might be longer, and the injury might reoccur. The team currently has Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley, Jackie Battle, and LeRon McClain to which to turn as replacements.
Begging the question: why not Ryan Grant? And, as of the day of Mathews’ injury, why not Cedric Benson?
Now, both guys have warts. Grant comes off a knee injury two years ago. Benson comes with a rap sheet — apparently not long enough to scare Green Bay away. Neither has historically racked up big yardage or touchdown numbers. There is just nothing flashy there, and there are a lot of younger, more talented backs I would rather have on my roster.
But are the current options really better? And if not, why not upgrade?
The answer is easy: AJ and Norv pushed all in before the season.
By way of background, AJ never spends big in free agency. Initially, beat writers attributed his frugal ways to a search for value: he got more out of guys like Mike Goff, at exponentially more affordable prices, than he did by targeting big name free agents. Then AJ just stopped courting free agents, period. His theory: we just don’t know what we’re getting with other teams’ guys. Nevermind that he already knew (or should have known) how bad his own right tackle and strong safety were…
Then the fans called for AJ’s head, and he determined to spend whatever it took to keep his job. This offseason, AJ brought in three veteran free agent running backs; four wideouts; a quarterback; a left guard; a tight end; two linebackers; and, a safety, all of whom will probably make the roster and see some playing time. And these are just the veterans from other teams, and just the high-profile signings; he also re-upped with several defensive linemen/outside linebackers, Jared Gaither at left tackle, two tight ends from last year’s squad, and the usual crop of young training camp invitees.
For their efforts, the Chargers have $2 million in cap space left.
The spending is somewhat welcome news for fans who have demanded more financial dedication to the team’s success. But it also leaves the team without any financial flexibility during the season. 2 million dollars is the equivalent of two veteran signings for the rest of the season. Only a handful of teams in the NFL boast less cap room than the Chargers.
So there will be no Ryan Grant, no matter how long Mathews’ injury lingers. There will be no replacement for Gaither if he continues his unintentional, camp-long holdout. The defensive backfield performs, or else – well, or else they don’t, but no relief from the outside is in sight.
These are your 2012 Chargers: like ‘em, love ‘em, or see ‘em on the sideline.