Robert Meachem (photo credit: www.chargers.com)
“Phase 1,” as AJ Smith called it today during a radio interview with xtra Sports 1360AM, of the San Diego Chargers off season has come to an end. Fans, teammates, and Coaches have all had to say goodbye to some of their favorite Chargers. Before Free Agency started Charger Nation was forced to give an emotional goodbye to longtime Charger Kris Dielman, who after months of careful consideration decided to retire based on concerns for his future health following a season ending concussion and seizure in week 7 of this past season. In the first few hours after Free Agency started another key piece of the offense, Vincent Jackson, signed a mega contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The most recent Charger to sign a contract away from San Diego was Mike Tolbert, who chose to take less money to sign with the Carolina Panthers who have promised him a featured role in the offense.
Fortunately, almost just as quickly as Charger Nation had to say “goodbye” to Vincent Jackson, we got to say “Hello” to Robert Meachem and “Welcome Back” to Jared Gaither. Meachem comes from a pass-happy Saints offense and has been a dangerous downfield threat. Using his speed (sub 4.4 40 yrd dash) Meachem has averaged 15.35 yards per catch over the last three seasons and a combined 20 touchdowns. The Chargers expect Meachem to thrive in Norv Turner’s aggressive downfield passing system with Philip Rivers throwing him the deep ball that has been so successful with Floyd and Jackson over the last few seasons. Jared Gaither was rewarded with a 4 year contract following his stellar performance over the last 5 games of last season. The massive (6’9″ 340lb) left tackle has had some injury concerns in the past, but when healthy is considered one of the top 5 LT’s in the NFL. The Chargers, especially Rivers, will be counting on Gaither to hold the left side of the line while Dielman’s replacement settles into their starting role.
Since then AJ Smith and Ed McGuire have added former Ravens OLB Jarret Johnson, a force against the run who Smith predicts to be a fan favorite very quickly. Johnson also brings his 9 seasons of experience on one of the most dominant defenses in the league to the Chargers locker room. Another former Raven, Le’Ron McClain, a big, powerful FB/RB who most recently played for the Chiefs will be the first true FB the Chargers have had since Lorenzo Neal left in 2007. McClain who has become more of a true FB over recent seasons, is no stranger to running the ball after carrying the rock 232 times for 902 yards and 10 TD’s for the Ravens in 2008. He is also a reliable receiver out of the back field averaging just shy of 19 catches per season since 2008.
To the surprise of some Chargers fans, Smith and Co. were not done there. With many rumors claiming former Broncos UFA Eddie Royal had signed with the Redskins were being circulated, he was flown out to San Diego for a visit. After a visit to the team facility and lunch with Philip Rivers, Royal signed a contract to become a San Diego Charger where he will play in the slot and give Rich Bisaccia a versatile and powerful weapon on Special teams as one of the best punt returners in the NFL. The Chargers have also gone on to add Atari Bigby, a SS who played for the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, to add competition for Darrell Stuckey and whichever SS the Chargers decide to draft. The final addition that was made during “Phase 1″ was TE Dante Rosario, who Charger fans may remember from week 1 of the 2008 season when Rosario caught 7 passes for 96 yards including the game winning touchdown as time expired. Rosario gives the Bolts 5 TE’s on their roster, as Kory Sperry was also re-signed to a 1 year deal, to battle it out in camp for what will likely be only 3 roster spots.
Smith and Co. now settle in for “Phase 2″ of the off season, which should be the period between now and the Draft. Smith said during his radio interview today that “Phase 2″ will be much slower. The Chargers will take their time in selecting their next additions. First up will likely be Tolbert’s replacement. Smith said they have 4 RB’s in mind, one of which is Jackie Battle who the Chargers brought in for a visit today. Other targets include former Chargers Luis Castillo, Jacob Hester, and Antonio Garay, who the Chargers have offered contracts too and are waiting on word back. Beyond that the Chargers will wait for the dust to settle while they keep their eyes and ears open for O-Line depth as more veterans are released or possibly even shopped via trade. ”Phase 2″ will also include revising and finalizing their strategy and targets for “Phase 3,” the draft.