Smith's ego getting in the way of Chargers' path to the Super Bowl
SAN DIEGO --
Strategically placed throughout the room are picture frames with famous quotations inside. One is by
For the second time in six seasons Smith appears poised to jeopardize a potentially promising season just to prove he's the alpha male. He calls it business, but from afar it looks like ego.
With no gun to his head, he set an arbitrary deadline of June 15 for McNeill and Jackson to sign their contract tenders as restricted free agents. When the players failed to do so, he reduced the offers from $3.2 million to just over $600,000 and said he would not raise them.
Yep, he showed that his was bigger than theirs. But in the process he also erased any incentive for the players to show up before training camp -- if at all. Why would two former Pro Bowlers, in their prime and seeking to cash in after outperforming their rookie contracts, risk serious injury and a big payday in 2011 for a 10 percent raise over the final year of their rookie deals?
Answer: They won't. At least people close to them say they won't. And please don't say it's to gain another accrued season. The Players Association is not going to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement that requires more than four years to reach unrestricted free agency, and Jackson and McNeill have already reached that standard..
In the meantime the Chargers' quest to reach the Super Bowl becomes that much harder. A return to the postseason seems a fait accompli considering they're the only team in the lowly AFC West to post a winning record in any of the previous three seasons and their non-conference schedule is against the equally awful NFC West. But what happens then?
In 2006 they finished 14-2 but lost their playoff opener at home under former coach
Smith's tough-guy stance is nothing new. He did the same thing in 2005, when he suspended star tight end
The irony of the current situation is that it flies in the face of many of Smith's stated principles. Such as:
I get it that A.J. has a list of players he wants to sign to new deals, and that there's a pecking order of his choosing. What I don't understand is why he creates an adversarial environment when there isn't a need for it. There was no need to impose an arbitrary deadline on McNeill or Jackson, just as no one is preventing him from talking to the players today. It's about ego now, about proving that when we say something we mean it -- even if what we say could hurt the team.
I absolutely believe Smith wants to win a championship, but he's going to do it his way, which means sometimes placing his ego ahead of the team. He is not going to allow an agent or player to say they got the better of him, er, the Chargers while he's at the helm. That's fine if the goal is to hang your hat on division titles, but to win championships you need players.
Who knows, perhaps Smith is right. The man has an eye for talent, his last few drafts notwithstanding. Still, for all their talent the Chargers have been trending downward the past few years. They won two playoff games in Turner's first season, one in his second and none last year. Which might explain the Angelou quote behind Smith's desk. It reads: "We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated."
That never-give-in attitude apparently applies to contract negotiations as well as football games.