FB Lorenzo Neal (Harry How/Getty)
The Chargers announced today that veterans Lorenzo Neal, Marlon McCree and Shane Olivea have been released. All three began the 2006 season in the starting lineup, only to see their playing time decrease as the season wore on. The only surprise on the list is Olivea, whose fate was sealed when the Chargers signed Scott Mruczkowski to a three-year extension.
Lorenzo Neal was released after making his third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance with the Chargers. The 15-year veteran is still a powerful lead blocker but is not a threat as a runner or receiver. Andrew Pinnock, the younger and cheaper alternative, will assume Neal’s place in the starting lineup. Pinnock started five games last season after Neal broke his leg in Week 14.
The Chargers attempted to trade Neal before the deadline but found no takers. The team was rumored to be in talks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who may now pursue Neal as a free agent.
Marlon McCree was cut after struggling in coverage last season. The seven-year veteran finished the season with 67 tackles and three interceptions but was often late in providing help over the top. Eric Weddle, who split time with McCree last season, will move into the starting lineup.
Weddle and Clinton Hart are the only pure safeties left on the roster, although Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver may see time there.
Shane Olivea asked for his release so he could compete for more playing time elsewhere. He lost his right tackle job to Jeromey Clary in Week 13 after Olivea struggled in space. The team planned to let Olivea compete at guard this season, but the re-signing of Scott Mruczkowski eliminated that need, as well.
In a surprising move, the Chargers placed a second-round tender on linebacker Marques Harris. Harris lost his spot in the rotation to Jyles Tucker late last season and had seemingly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. The Chargers can now match any offer Harris receives or receive a second-round pick as compensation.
Kicker Dave Rayner, who was also a restricted free agent, was not tendered.
The Chargers will offer tenders to six exclusive rights free agents: Clary, Gregory, wide receiver Malcom Floyd, cornerback Cletis Gordon, and defensive tackle Brandon McKinney. The exclusive rights tag means none of these players can negotiate with other teams.
Another exclusive rights free agent, Tyronne Gross, was not tendered a contract and will not return next season. With A.J. Smith conceding that Michael Turner will not be back next season, the Chargers are now all but forced to add a running back early in the draft.
As for the team’s other unrestricted free agents, Drayton Florence and Billy Volek, both will be allowed to hit the open market. Smith believes that Florence will price himself out of the Chargers’ range. Volek will shop for a starting opportunity elsewhere but is open to returning.