Chargers sign key players

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With the business about moving or not to Los Angeles settled for at least a year, the San Diego Chargers have gone out and signed contracts with players in the past two weeks. Most significant, tight end Antonio Gates has been signed to finish his career with the team. At 35 he’s spend his entire 13 years with the Chargers. Insides say it’s a two-year deal worth $12 million.

Antonio Gates (Claudia Gestro)
Antonio Gates (Claudia Gestro)

Ten-year veteran quarterback Kellen Clemens has been signed for another year backing up Philip Rivers. Clemens has been with the Chargers for two years. He was drafted in the second round by the New York Jets and just before going to San Diego he played with the St. Louis Rams.

They signed wide receiver Travis Benjamin to a four-year deal worth $24 million. Last season with the Cleveland Browns Benjamin caught 68 passes for 966 yards, scoring five touchdowns. He is expected to be the #2 receiver behind Keenan Allen, giving Philip Rivers another reliable — and fast — primary receiver. Benjamin also returned punts last season, scoring touchdowns three times on punt returns. He will probably pick up those duties as well.

Brandon Mebane was signed to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million. The defensive tackle who played his first nine seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, will be a bulwark against the run, an area where the San Diego defense suffered last season.

Free safety Dwight Lowery has come over from the Indianapolis Colts. He’s been in the league eight years and has proven himself to be a credible defensive threat. He is said to welcome the challenge of replacing Eric Weddle, who was a very popular — and effective — player for the Chargers. They signed Lowery to a three-year, $7.2 million dollar contract.

One big signing for the Chargers is cornerback Casey Hayward who spent his first four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. He led the Packers in interceptions for two of his four seasons, grabbing nine over the course of his career. He got six of those in his rookie season. He was sidelined with a hamstring injury for part of his second season, but that hasn’t been a factor in his game since.

(Claudia Gestro)
(Claudia Gestro)

The Chargers also resigned one of their big (and happy) surprises of the 2015 season: offensive lineman Chris Hairston. He was first signed to a one-year deal after the team had experienced early attrition to their offensive line, and in the course of the season he played every position on the line, except center. He has proven to be very valuable to Philip Rivers and the offense. The Chargers signed him to a two-year deal that will be considerably better than the base salary he received last season.

The Chargers also retained defensive tackle Damian Square, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman and offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins.

The two big questions that remain for the Chargers, regarding a new stadium in San Diego, is will they get one downtown, on San Diego Bay, attached to the convention center and near the Padres’ Petco Park. That is the team’s preferred location and deal. They city, behind Mayor Kevin Faulconer, has proposed a new stadium in Mission Valley, at a site adjacent to the existing Qualcomm Stadium.

The second issue: will voters support a ballot referendum in the November elections to partially fund a new stadium, regardless of where it is located. Some polls say there is 33 to 36 percent support from residents and one poll, commissioned by Mayor Faulconer and the city, says 51 percent of the local voters would back partially funding a new stadium. If they don’t get the stadium they want, The Chargers have a deal in place to share the stadium in Inglewood with the Los Angeles Rams.

In their final home game last season against the Miami Dolphins, many of the players were adamant about their respect for the San Diego Chargers fans that supported the team in good and lean years. After the game, which they won, QB Philip Rivers told the press, “It was a special day, if it is the last one, that was kind of what I told the guys before the game: they’ve been playing football in this town before any of us were born. There are people that are going to be at that game today that were coming to games before we were born. We get to close it out. If it is the end, we get to finish it off. Hopefully, the fans that have seen it over the years and the players that have played in there can be proud today that we at least ended it the right way.”

Philip Rivers (Claudia Gestro)
Philip Rivers (Claudia Gestro)

Now Rivers, Coach Mike McCoy and the rest of the team — including the owners and management — have a chance to prove to the area’s residents keeping the team in San Diego is not just a good idea, it will be a good investment, with a winning team, a multi-use facility downtown that will attract more conventions to an expanded convention center — in particular keeping Comic-Con in San Diego — more concerts and other events and the big event — hosting a Super Bowl.

The elections will be held November 8. The Chargers will have played nine games before the election that will see the voters approve or disapprove of a stadium financing deal. If the team wants to get the support of the residents, they will need to have a winning record before that vote, at least a 6-3 record. There are a lot of fans that want to see their team stay their team.

Even the starting quarterback likes the idea of staying in San Diego. Last season when he signed his new contract with the Chargers, Rivers was asked about his disdain for moving to Los Angeles. He said, “… it wasn’t a hatred of Los Angeles. It was more of a love for this community. This is where all but one of my children were born and where our family has grown, for over a decade.”

Claudia Gestro contributed to this article, including top photo of Chargers fans at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.