Caldwell still flashing potential

Caldwell still flashing potential

Last Sunday in Philadelphia, the Chargers' offensive line had its worst showing of the year. They allowed Drew Brees to be sacked three times, and let the Eagles 10th-ranked run defense hold the NFL's best running back under a half yard per carry. The next day, Roman Oben - the senior member of the line – was awarded a two-year contract extension.

A few days later, Lorenzo Neal was rewarded.

Clearly, the Chargers are big believers in the truism that timing isn't everything. With that in mind, it is time they step up and give Reche Caldwell an extension as well - even though he fumbled away the Eagles game.

"I am disappointed because I feel that I let my teammates, the coaches, and the fans down," Caldwell admitted. "You have to hold on to the ball when you are in that time of a game."

Through the first 58 minutes of that game, Caldwell was the team's best playmaker. He made plays on the deep ball, got yards after the catch, and showed the explosiveness that he demonstrated prior to being injured last year. More importantly, he proved to everyone watching that he is the Chargers' best wide receiver not named McCardell.

"We get paid to hold onto the ball," head coach Marty Schottenheimer reiterated. "That's part of our job, and unfortunately we didn't do it."

Many believe that Caldwell's appearance in Sunday's starting lineup was due to Eric Parker's appearance on the injury report. While that may be true, Caldwell showed more than enough this past weekend to earn back the starting spot he held when healthy last season.

The other obstacle standing in the way of Caldwell and payday - version 2.0 is Vincent Jackson. The team still expects Jackson to contribute this season, and they may be reluctant to pay Caldwell number-two money if they think Jackson can handle the role equally well.

While this concern is valid, it should not keep the Chargers from bringing back Caldwell for the 2006 season and beyond. First of all, Jackson is an unproven commodity who has yet to produce beyond the 1-AA collegiate level. Secondly, A.J. Smith is a strong proponent of building both depth and competition, and Caldwell can provide both of those things if nothing else.

The more weapons the Chargers have on offense, the more games they will win, plain and simple. If teams put eight or more in the box to stop LaDainian Tomlinson, Brees can go to Gates. If Gates is doubled, Brees can then turn to McCardell. But if McCardell can't shake free, the team needs another reliable playmaker.

Caldwell is that playmaker.

"I should of held onto the ball though and we would have come up with the win," added Caldwell. "I should of just went down but I was trying to help my team make a play. It just went the wrong way and I let a lot of people down."

Tomlinson, Gates and McCardell are all locked up through 2007. If the team can keep Caldwell as a par of that core as well, they will have set up a loaded offensive arsenal for Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, A.J. Feeley, or whoever is throwing passes at that point.

The reason the Chargers manage their cap so diligently is so they can afford to keep players just like Caldwell: talented, hard working, and full of upside. It is time the Chargers give him his money, give him his starting spot back full time, and give him a chance to keep making plays - fumble or not.

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