Chargers fans and NFL fans in general have their eyes focused on March 10, the day when free agency begins. For once, the Chargers have an abundance of spending cash and gaping holes that need to be filled on offense and defense. We’ve become used to and applauded GM Tom Telesco for doing a lot with very little financially. It is going to be very interesting to see what he does with a pocket full of Benjamins instead of a pocket full of pennies.
Still, with all the needs to be addressed, the need to save money while still getting great value will always be a priority. In this column I’m going to give you three intriguing options that may achieve those very goals. One has been discussed increasingly as days go by and two have been off the radar this past season. All three have one thing in common, troubled pasts.
1. Justin Blackmon WR, Jacksonville.
If you saw my mock draft last year, you noticed I had the Chargers trading a 4th round draft pick for Blackmon’s rights. For those of you who’ve forgotten, Blackmon is a 6’1, 210 pound freak of nature out of Oklahoma State. A back-to-back winner in 2010 and 2011 of the Biletnikoff Award heralding college football’s best wideout, Blackmon was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Blackmon ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 at the 2012 combine and his speed is only enhanced by exceptional leaping ability and physical, aggressive nature when going up for the ball. All those things made Blackmon a bigger target than he is stature-wise.
In his rookie season, he burst on the scene catching 64 balls for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. Blackmon’s downfall has come off the field in the form of substance abuse. His second season was marred by suspensions from arrests for DUI and driving under the influence of marijuana. Blackmon only played four games in the 2013 season and has not played a game since.
Jacksonville is hoping to know Blackmon’s status before the draft. He has to apply for reinstatement after his year-long suspension in the 2014-15 season and it looks like he has worn out his welcome. A change of scenery in a locker room filled with veteran leaders could be just what the doctor ordered. Blackmon turned 25 at the beginning of January. A season away has hopefully rekindled his desire to play and given him time to get his personal life in order.
Focused and reinvigorated, he would step in as a legitimate number one or two wide receiver. An incentive-laden two-year contract would give the Chargers a low-risk, high reward potential player at a thinning position. A mid to late round draft pick would still be sufficient to get him out of the Sunshine State.
2. Daryl Washington, ILB Arizona.
Living in Phoenix, I have seen a lot of Washington and listened to his coaches and teammates sing his praises since he was drafted in 2010. Like Blackmon, the 28-year old Washington seems to have run out of lives in Arizona.
Let’s count the offenses…
Washington was suspended for the entire 2014 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, his second such offense. The first caused a four game suspension in 2013. In addition, he violated the league’s personal conduct policy stemming from an aggravated assault conviction of his ex-girlfriend. After pleading guilty, he received one year supervised probation.
On the field, Washington was an exceptional and a disruptive force on the defensive side of the ball. He was one of the team captains, tasked with making sure the rest of the defense was in the right place and calling plays on defense. Despite missing four games in 2013 he was still third on the team with 81 tackles (59 solo), 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 after amassing 134 tackles (107 solo), 9 sacks, 4 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and one interception.
Another big indicator he’s played his last game in a Cardinals uniform, during the 2013 offseason Cardinals GM Steve Keim said: “It’s completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position.” A player like Washington who is on the right side of 30, loaded with potential and spared a year of wear and tear on his body will come with a higher price tag but to get that kind of production from an inside linebacker helps everywhere else on defense. In four seasons he only missed one game aside from the games he missed due to suspension and durability is definitely a trait that has been seriously lacking in San Diego.
3. Adrian Peterson RB, Minnesota.
This has been a name that has been popping up recently in connection with the Chargers. We all watched as the child abuse scandal unfolded before us last season. Peterson missed all but the first game of the season and after being removed from the Commissioner’s exempt list was suspended the final six games of the season without pay. He was brought to trial for disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch, leaving behind lashes that were used for evidence.
There hasn’t exactly been a groundswell of support for Peterson among the front office in Minnesota. The team seems to be looking to rebuild without him, leaning on the talents of 2014 first round draft pick, QB Teddy Bridgewater. After compiling a respectable 7-9 2014 campaign without AP, Minnesota seems to be headed in the right direction.
As the league’s highest paid running back, Peterson is scheduled to make $12.75 million this season and is still under contract for the next three years. He will also count 15.4 million against the Vikings salary cap, which is another reason they look to be ready to cut ties with their star player.
After entering a no contest plea to misdemeanor reckless assault, Peterson received two years probation, $4,000.00 in fines and 80 hours community service. He will be able to apply for reinstatement on April 15.
By adding Peterson, the Chargers would instantly become a Super Bowl favorite in the AFC. His signing would be akin to Peyton Manning coming to Denver. With a franchise quarterback leading what was the 10th ranked passing attack in the league last season already in place, a dominant feature back would put the Chargers over the top.
The last of the dominant every down running backs, Peterson is the anti-Mathews. In seven full seasons he only missed 8 games, half of those came from missing the final four games of the season after tearing his ACL in 2011. He then returned and ran for an astonishing 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to winning the NFL MVP award in 2012. A punishing runner, he has the ability to catch out of the backfield, elude and break tackles and possesses phenomenal breakaway speed.
Peterson will be 30 by the time the season starts, but he has essentially had a full season off to heal his body. We’ve seen what he can do coming back from a devastating injury in record time, what will he be able to do returning completely fresh and determined to reestablish himself as the top back in the league? Defenses will have to jam the box with an extra defender (which still has minimal effect against AP) to contain him and that will leave the Chargers receivers and tight ends in favorable one-on-one matchups. A three-year contract for Peterson will give Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Eric Weddle and the longtime Chargers their greatest shot at a deserved Super Bowl championship.
Chemistry is very important in a locker room. The question now is will Telesco give these three players serious consideration if and when they become available? We know the GM is big on high character, team-oriented players and he leans toward younger, high potential, multi-dimensional players. Was that because that’s truly his philosophy or because of the pennies in his pocket, that was the road he was forced to travel?
Keep in mind Telesco did offer a contract last offseason to veteran wide receiver Steve Smith (who’s had his fair share of on and off the field incidents) last year and would have signed him if Baltimore didn’t have the team that exiled him, Carolina, on their schedule. The revenge factor was too great for Smith to pass up and he went on to have a great season in Baltimore.
These players have endangered themselves and people around them through drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence. That should not be taken lightly. Their past transgressions should serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of us. They have had a year or longer to get their lives back in order and (hopefully) come back to the game ready to perform and endear themselves to their new teammates, coaches and fan base. A change of scenery, a chance to play on a playoff-caliber team in a low media intensity city like San Diego and an opportunity to start rebuilding their image will provide plenty of motivation and that will only benefit the Chargers. These players are game changers and that is what the Bolts sorely need.
Morality is a slippery slope. These players have (or are soon to be) cast-off from their teams because their behavior has become too big a distraction to keep them around. Who hasn’t made mistakes and been motivated to come through it better than you were before? We’re known as the land of opportunity. People come here from around the globe searching for a new start. In the end, we’re not considering these players to be the heads of our household, we’re considering these players to be standout components that will get us what we crave as Chargers fans: A Super Bowl championship.
My name is The Greg One, and I approve these players.