Telesco: Bolts won't make splash in free agency

Updated: March 8, 2013, 7:51 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- The new regime running the San Diego Chargers doesn't plan to dive head-first into free agency.

More like feet-first, somewhat slowly.

While there's plenty of work to do after the Chargers missed the playoffs for the third straight season, new general manager Tom Telesco doesn't plan to spend wildly and take chances in the NFL's version of a public bazaar.

Telesco comes in with a draft-driven philosophy he learned under former Colts GM Bill Polian, with free agency used to pluck players here and there.

"We're probably not going to be a major splash team in free agency," Telesco said Friday. "There's a time and place for it, but that time and place is not this year for us.

"You want to pay for future production," Telesco added. "I don't want to pay for past performance. A lot of times in free agency you end up having to pay for what he used to do. You've got to be careful. You want to make sure you're paying for his prime years. And if those prime years are already past, you've got to be careful."

A big turnover is expected on a team that went 7-9, costing coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith their jobs.

San Diego released strong safety Atari Bigby on Friday, a day after cutting linebacker Takeo Spikes. The moves cleared about $4.5 million in cap space, giving the team roughly $12 million in cap room heading into free agency, which starts Tuesday.

The release of Bigby started speculation that the Chargers could move Quentin Jammer from cornerback to safety. Telesco thinks Jammer would remain at cornerback, if he returns to the Chargers.

But Jammer, like many of the 19 Chargers set to become unrestricted free agents, is expected to test the market.

Also likely to see what deals they might reach elsewhere are cornerback Antoine Cason, outside linebacker Shaun Phillips and right guard Louis Vasquez.

The previous regime failed to lock up Vasquez last fall, a surprising move because Smith spoke often of re-signing the team's own free agents.

Smith also waded deep into free agency last year, and some of the additions didn't work out. Among them were wide receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, envisioned as a 1-2 punch to replace Vincent Jackson, who was allowed to leave as a free agent. Smith did make the midseason acquisition of Danario Alexander, whose 37 catches were as many as Meachem and Royal had combined.

Asked the priorities on the Chargers' list of players set to become unrestricted free agents, Telesco mentioned Vasquez and kicker Nick Novak. The new GM said the Chargers have spoken with those players' agents, but "there's nothing to report. The market will dictate a lot."

The major offseason focus will be rebuilding the offensive line. Quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers' $93 million man, was under siege most of the season. Having to scramble for his well-being helped contribute to 22 turnovers -- giving him 47 in two seasons -- and he was sacked 49 times.

"We've got some work to do there and we've got to attack it a lot of different ways," Telesco said. "The offensive line is five guys and you need seven or eight that can play. The chance of getting your five guys through 16 games isn't always good. You don't want to be in a situation where one guy gets hurt and the backup that's coming in gives you a huge dropoff. We've got to get seven or eight guys that we feel good about. Between free agency, the draft, waiver wire, maybe some guys that come out on the street, trades, we've got to attack it all different ways. We're not going to go in and fix it one way."

Left tackle remains a big question mark. Jared Gaither was signed to a four-year, $24.5 million contract after playing well in the final five games of 2011. But he developed a mysterious back injury early in training camp and was slow to return, raising questions about his work ethic. He played in only four of the first 10 games before injuring his groin and going on injured reserve.

Telesco said he recently spoke by phone with the 6-foot-9, 335-pound Gaither.

"It went fine," Telesco said. As for the big tackle's future with the team, "There's nothing to report with him right now," the GM said.

Among changes that need to be made, Telesco said, are getting younger and adding more speed, particularly on offense.

Telesco, who hired Mike McCoy as head coach, said the obvious strength of the team is Rivers. He also likes the core of young players on defense, including linemen Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes, linebackers Donald Butler and Melvin Ingram, plus cornerbacks Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright.

The Chargers have the 11th overall pick in the draft, which starts April 25.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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