Rivers’ contract first decision in Chargers conundrum

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At the end of the day, the San Diego Chargers would like to keep all of the productive and talented young players on their roster. However, the NFL’s salary cap makes this an almost impossible dream for any team with a glut of young stars. The current Chargers team is a case in point.

Over the next two years, the Chargers have several high-caliber players whose contracts are going to expire. Thus, the Chargers either will resign them, or they will hit the free-agent market, where they will be available to any team and also have the ability to choose the any team that bids the highest on their contracts.

Make no mistake, the Chargers are not cheap, and the contract with Rivers  is evidence of their willingness to pay quality players that commensurate with their production. Rivers signed a six-year, $92 million contract on Monday.

Photo from 'Scott's View of the World' via Flikr

Photo from 'Scott's View of the World' via Flikr

Signing Rivers was a smart move, to be sure, since good quarterbacks are hard to find. There are a number of impending free agents following the 2009 and 2010 seasons and, in all likely-hood, the Chargers are not going to be able to sign all of them. Following this season, linebacker Shawne Merriman, wide receivers Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson, running back Darren Sproles, and offensive tackle Marcus McNeill are scheduled to become free agents. After the 2010 season, tight end Antonio Gates and corner-back Antonio Cromartie will be free agents. While it’s virtually certain that the Chargers will sign some of these players, it’s just as certain that they will have to let some of them go. That’s where things get tricky.

How all of these players perform this season will undoubtedly be a determining factor for which players the Chargers decide they want to keep, and which players they will let pursue greener pastures.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the NFL is in the midst of a labor dispute that could have a huge ripple effect for potential player signings. Annually, the NFL sets a limit on how much money each team can spend on player salaries, and this is known as the salary cap. Every year, the Chargers are right around the limit, and this year is no different. After this season, the collective bargaining agreement between NFL players and owners is set to expire, thus there could be no salary cap thereafter, giving the Chargers and every other team the opportunity to spend an unlimited amount of money. This is highly unlikely though, as the owners would probably impose a lockout before they said goodbye to such a favorable device as the salary cap.

Photo from 'SD Dirk' via Flikr

Photo from 'SD Dirk' via Flikr

Part of the reason the salary cap exists is because the NFL embraces parity. They want the wealth to be spread and every team to be able to sign good players. It is the direct opposite of Major League Baseball, which lacks a salary cap, and you can’t argue with the results, as the NFL is the most popular league in the United States. Still, when one team has several quality players, it is inevitable that they eventually will not be able to keep all of them.

Photo from 'Keith Allison' via Flikr

Photo from 'Keith Allison' via Flikr

The Chargers are a victim of their own success in the draft. When a team drafts several good players at once, naturally their rookie contracts expire at about the same time. This is the case with Merriman and Jackson (drafted in 2005) and Cromartie and McNeill (drafted in 2006).

Ultimately, the Chargers are going to have to make some tough decisions on who to keep and who they will let go. They they have too many good, relatively young players whose contracts expire at roughly the same time.

It’s the price you pay for being successful.

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