Chargers fans looking for insight into the new regime have already gotten a few clues.
For one, Tolesco appears to mean it when he says he’ll build through the draft. The only other options for adding to a roster are free agency and trades, and we’ve seen little of the former and none of the latter.
We also know that the newly-minted blue and gold brass — seeing Ken Whisenhunt sporting a Chargers polo shirt in a video feature on the team website, I did a double-take simply because he was not Norv Turner — shops at the outlet mall, not fashionable boutiques. They’ve dipped into the lower-priced free agent pool repeatedly over the past week, and may have found a few bargains. (Danny Woodhead? Chad Rinehart?)
But the team seemed to find cash under the sofa cushions when it counted. The Chargers lumbered towards oft-injured cornerback Derek Cox, wallet in hand, like a bachelor party with too many episodes of “World Poker Tour” under its belt headed for the Vegas table games. But inking the former-Jacksonville standout seems like a stroke of genius now, when the supply of good cornerbacks has expired, and teams are reluctantly entertaining over-the-hill veterans only to show them the door when it turns out, yes, their performance in recent seasons was no fluke.
Maybe the biggest revelation of Tolesco era, though, has been the team’s willingness to try to play the hand it has been dealt. The Chargers are bloated with dead money, particularly on the offensive line. Jared Gaither and Jeromey Clary will make a combined $12.2 million this year; one is a corpse, and the other seems intent on turning Phillip Rivers into one. The team could survive the cap hit from waiving Clary, for example, but they seem to want to “coach him up.” Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a great track record, but this will put him to the test.
Some damage is unavoidable. The Bolts need warm bodies for 2013, and they would take a massive hit against the cap by cutting underachievers like the aforementioned offensive linemen, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal and — it hurts to say it — aging veterans like Jarret Johnson and Antonio Gates. They may also want to extend young talents on the verge of free agency like Donald Butler, Cam Thomas, and Darrell Stuckey, which would require some cap commitment this year. So there’s certainly no Sebastian Vollmer walking through the doors of Chargers Park.
But Tolesco’s refusal to take the scorched-earth route suggests that he doesn’t find the cupboard completely bare — and that he trusts Mike McCoy and crew to make chicken salad out of, well, some of the less-appetizing ingredients.
ADDENDUM: The NFL permits teams to designate players “post June 1 cuts”; apparently each team is limited to two such designations annually. Without this designation, a March-May release accelerated the entire signing bonus to the current year for the purposes of the cap; with such a designation, the player can be released in March, and the release designated until June 1 for the purposes of the cap. Some [uncited] sources claim that the designation does nothing to improve the team’s immediate cap situation. Rather, teams can simply escape paying roster bonuses that may accrue in the interim (and of course, the player benefits from an earlier release).
Some obvious candidates for post-June 1 designation/June 1 release seem to be Meachem, providing $5M in savings under the cap this year, by my count; Gaither ($4.5M); Clary ($4M); and Jarret Johnson ($3M). Their release may yet be coming. If, as mentioned above, the team gets no immediate cap flexibility from post-June-1 designation, the Chargers may prefer to see the players perform in OTAs in May, then make the cut and scour the market with renewed cap room. (Or, in Gaither’s case, wait for him to miss a mandatory team activity or two before invoking some kind of escape clause in the contract..) We’ll see.