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Chargers bring back own free agents
SAN DIEGO – Twelve free agents signed contracts with the Chargers on Friday, including 10 that were on San Diego’s roster last season.
Both free agents from other teams, safety Bob Sanders and linebacker Takeo Spikes, are former Pro Bowl honorees.
“We are extremely pleased with the plan we had, and the execution of it,” General Manager A.J. Smith said. “We were ready, and we hit it fast, but we’re not done yet.”
High on the Chargers’ priority list this offseason was to re-sign safety Eric Weddle.
Weddle signed a five-year contract with San Diego on Friday despite high interest in the safety from around the league.
Receiver Vincent Jackson signed the Chargers’ one-year Franchise offer Friday as well.
Unrestricted free agents defensive end Jacques Cesaire (two years), outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (two years), cornerback Dante Hughes (two years) and wide receiver Kelley Washington (one year) signed contracts Friday.
Restricted free agents running back Mike Tolbert (one year) and offensive tackle Brandyn Dombrowski (one year) also remain with the Chargers. The agreements with Spikes (three years), Sanders (one year), offensive tackle Jeromey Clary (four years) and Randy McMichael (one year), announced earlier this week, also were signed.
“Our philosophy is and always will be to reward our own players. At this time we brought back 10 of our own guys, and we may possibly have more return.
“I am very proud of the front office, scouting department and coaching staff. Everyone had input into this plan. But the most valuable player of this operation, without a doubt, is Ed McGuire.”
McGuire is executive vice president of football operations and handles contract negotiations. He also fills the role as the team’s “capologist.”
“He balanced a lot of things effectively and fast. The biggest distraction he had was me. He overcame that and did a great job,” Smith said.
In keeping with his philosophy of building through the draft and spending money on known commodities that already fit the Chargers, Smith rewarded several of the team’s pillars on offense and defense.
One of them, Weddle, garnered second-team All-Pro honors 2010 after finishing second on the team with 86 tackles, including seven for loss.
In high demand around the league, he eventually stayed in Southern California.
Weddle called negotiations with multiple teams “stressful” and on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning thought he wouldn’t return to San Diego, but he remained hopeful for a chance to remain with the team that drafted him. Early Wednesday, the Chargers made him an offer that allowed that to happen.
“It’s a dream come true. I always wanted to play my next contract here. I feel like we have unfinished business as a team and I want to be part of something special here,” Weddle said. “To get this deal done and for me to stay is really remarkable. I will always be indebted to the Chargers and I want to prove them right in showing that I’m worth this deal.”
After months of waiting, Sanders, a former Defensive Player of the Year, officially joined the Chargers. He’ll round out a veteran defensive backfield that includes Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, Weddle, Steve Gregory, Darrell Stuckey and Hughes along with rookies Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright.
The Chargers led the NFL last season in fewest passing yards allowed per game (177.8), a feat they would like to equal in 2011.
“I think we can be the best secondary in the league and build off the No. 1 pass defense last year,” Weddle said. “It will be a little bit of a transition getting Bob in there but he’s an exceptional player.”
Weddle said he owes the Chargers the same full effort he gave in the first four seasons of his career and talked about guarding against complacency.
“I just have to finish (more) plays and continue to take coaching. I know that I have a lot of years left in this league and a lot of years left with the Chargers,” Weddle said. “I’m already a really good safety but I believe I can be a great safety.”
• Jackson, entering his seventh NFL season, was a second-round pick by the Chargers in 2005. He posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in ’08 and ’09 but played in just five games last season.
At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Jackson is a specimen of a receiver that’s perfect for San Diego’s downfield attack.
• Cesaire, a nine-year veteran, has played his entire career in San Diego. He’s started 62 of his 97 games and will help mentor first-round choice Corey Liuget. Luis Castillo, Vaughn Martin are the other two defensive end holdovers from last season.
• San Diego signed Barnes mid-season in 2010. He sacked Tom Brady twice and finished with four in 11 games with the Chargers.
• Hughes played in 12 games in 2010 and became the starting nickel back by the end of the season.
• Washington, signed mid-season last year, caught 13 passes for 173 yards in eight games. Washington also played a special teams role.
• Tolbert, converted from fullback last season, gained 951 yards of total offense and rushed for 11 touchdowns. In his fourth season, he’s made significant strides since entering the league as a college free agent out of Coastal Carolina.
• Dombrowski started the first five games of the regular season at left tackle in Marcus McNeill’s absence and held his ground against a number of top-notch pass-rushers. Dombrowski has played in all 32 games for the Chargers the last two seasons.