OT Jeromey Clary (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
San Diego Chargers OT Jeromey Clary took home the biggest payday in the NFL’s performance-based pay system. Clary, a sixth-round pick in 2006, started all 16 games at right tackle last season. He earned $405,859 in additional pay via the program, which is designed to compensate young players who outperform their contracts.
The big payout is part of a rollercoaster offseason for Clary. The good news, aside from his suddenly fuller bank account, is that the Chargers chose not to replace him with a high-priced free agent. The bad news is that he appears to be the scapegoat de jour amongst Chargers fans after giving up four sacks during the postseason.
The fans may not be happy, but Clary has a fan in Head Coach Norv Turner, who talked about Clary at the NFL owners meetings.
"Jeromey Clary is a very underrated player,” Turner said. “I really like Jeromey and what he does for us. We leave him over there by himself a lot of games against really good players. I think he’s held up great and he’s going to continue to get better."
That doesn’t mean Clary will go into next season unchallenged. That Chargers could be tempted by several offensive tackles in the first round of the draft, including Michael Oher (Ole Miss), Andre Smith (Alabama) and Eben Britton (Arizona). All three have the ability to supplant Clary as early as this season.
Should that happen, the Chargers will consider moving Clary inside to guard and letting him compete with Kynan Forney and Scott Mruczkowski for the starting gig at right guard.
"I think people throw out different deals. Obviously if we were to draft a tackle then we’d evaluate what the best thing for us was," Turner said. "Jeromey, I think he’s a very good right tackle and I think he’s going to keep getting better."
The 2009 season will be make-or-break for Clary, who will become a restricted free agent after the season. The Chargers want to see more consistency from him, especially in pass protection, before locking him up with a long-term deal.
Basically, GM A.J. Smith does not want to make the same mistake he made with RT Shane Olivea, who received his big extension way too early.
If Clary improves in pass protection, he may have another payday coming his way. If not, he could be replaced by a rookie or by veteran backup L.J. Shelton.
Turner, though, doesn’t see that happening.
"I thought he played extremely well most of the season," said Turner of Clary. "The Indianapolis game is a great example. He gave up two sacks in that game, but there were probably 25 times we had him over there by himself against a real good pass rusher and the reason we were able to win that game was because our two tackles held up when they had to in the two-minute situations and the third down situations and blocked Indianapolis’ players."