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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | With the San Diego Chargers eliminated from the playoffs, the club is now left with some big off-season decisions: What to do with $21 million in cap space, a few extra draft picks – thanks in part to Eli Manning – and the destiny of quarterback and free agent-to-be Drew Brees who is key to the team’s future.

Most people around the NFL and most Charger fans think that the Chargers should use their “franchise player” designation on Drew Brees, which would entitle him to receive a one year $9.5 million contract for the next season. The Chargers would then take a wait-and-see approach to Brees. If he plays well, the club would consider signing him to a long-term contract or possibly using their franchise tag on him again, costing the team $10 million. But even if he plays well, there is no guarantee he would be the quarterback beyond 2005 since the Chargers will want a return on their sizeable investment in Phillip Rivers.

Here’s a different strategy. Instead of wasting excessive money on the quarterback position, the club should sign Brees to a four-year deal . Brees, who was recently voted to his first Pro Bowl, has been the undisputed team leader this year. His determination and fire helped propel the Chargers to their first AFC West Division Title since 1994. Brees is adamant about his desire to stay in San Diego and finish what he and his close friend LaDainian Tomlinson started. The owners of the club, the Spanos family, have proven in the past that they are willing to take a financial hit for the team (see Boston, David and Wiley, Marcellus). So, they could let Rivers sit another year and then trade him for a first-round pick. By signing Brees to a long-term deal now, say four years for $24 million, the Chargers would free up at least $3.5 million to sign a quality defensive player or lock up restricted free agent Antonio Gates for an extended period.

With 21 out of 22 starters expected to return next year, an average player experience of four professional seasons, and the fact that the recent playoff game was the first for 40 out of the 60 players on the Chargers roster, the future of this organization looks strong. Brees and his chemistry with Tomlinson and Gates were clearly key to the Chargers’ success. The Chargers must give him two years to see what he and the team can do before the stadium vote. He is their best bet for success on the field and on the ballot.

The Chargers can’t really be contemplating using Rivers as a potential first- or second-year starter when they are pushing for a new stadium on the ballot in 2006, can they? Absolutely not. There is no way the Chargers can go into a campaign for a new stadium with an untested quarterback. The future of football in San Diego rests on the arm of Drew Brees. He deserves to know that he will be captaining this ship, sink or swim. Without a new stadium, there is no Aztec football, no Holiday Bowl, no Charger football, and certainly no Super Bowls. Brees showed something this year: his competitive fire. And together Tomlinson, Brees and Gates will propel the Chargers over the top. By doing so, the bandwagon fans will jump on board, a new stadium will pass, and football will be saved in San Diego.

Troy Roble was born and raised in San Diego. He grew up in Tierrasanta and attended University High School as well as Scripps Ranch High School. He participated in three sports in high school— football, basketball and baseball. Troy currently still plays basketball in local leagues twice a week and was a basketball and football referee while in college. He graduated from the University of San Diego and currently is in the executive MBA program at the University of California, San Diego Rady School of Business. He also works as a general manager for Caldera Spas and Baths. He is a life long Charger and Padres fan and an avid sports fan.

Click here to Voice your thoughts about what the Chargers should do.

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