Era of the Extension
Nate Kaeding

Posted Sep 28, 2006


It’s always difficult to be a Chargers fan during the offseason. While most teams in the league are out spending their full allotment of salary cap stash, the Chargers are typically as tightfisted as bank teller in a blighted neighborhood. In 2005, the team’s top free agent signing was free safety Bhawoh Jue.

In 2006, it was free safety Marlon McCree. Not only are those signings a little redundant, but they’re about as sexy as Toniu Fonoti in a thong. Money is the great equalizer in the NFL. That is why the league’s strict salary cap makes football the most competitive and therefore most popular sport in America. It is also what makes it so difficult for a team to justify not spending its full allowance. When the Chargers sit on their cash during the offseason like an overpaid veteran sits on the Raiders bench, fans begin to get antsy.

Fortunately, A.J. Smith has found a productive way to spend that extra cash – he’s extending the contracts of every player on the team who doesn’t wear No. 59. This week, Nate Kaeding’s name was added to the list of beneficiaries – a list which now runs longer than a Shawne Merriman interview.

To describe Smith as proactive is like describing Takeru Kobayashi as peckish. In a league where most general managers are content paying big money to franchise their best players while letting their middle-tier guys test the market, Smith is preventing much of his up-and-coming cast from hitting even restricted free agency.

Kaeding is the third member of the 2004 draft class – along with Nick Hardwick and Shane Olivea – to sign a long-term extension. Most teams are still developing players from their 2004 draft, let alone developing extensions for them.

And the youngsters aren’t the only ones cashing in. Jamal Williams, Keenan McCardell and Lorenzo Neal, three veterans with Pro Bowl experience, all received new deals over the last two years. But one need not be an all-star to get a new deal from the Chargers. Reserve players Jacques Cesaire, Clinton Hart and Stephen Cooper have all gotten new deals, too. Even Kassim Osgood and Andrew Pinnock, two players who contribute mostly on special teams, have cashed in.

Taking care of one’s own is more than just a way of preserving a talent base; it’s a way of boosting team morale. Players know that if they work hard they will be rewarded accordingly. Despite the in-house spending spree, Smith has plenty of money set aside for the likes of Kris Dielman, Shaun Phillips and Drayton Florence.

So even though Smith’s inside-out spending plan may make for some boring offseasons, it does yield a pretty impressive football team.



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