Burnett Destined for Nickel Role?

LB Kevin Burnett (Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

Kevin Burnett's introduction to the media was delayed a day - and he couldn't be happier. Not that the free-agent, inside linebacker was reluctant to meet the press. It was just that the Chargers had a more pressing item to take care of last week: telling the world LaDainian Tomlinson was staying in San Diego.

"I was praying I had LT as a teammate," Kevin Burnett said. "I contemplated walking in there and shaking his hand during the press conference to let him know I'm glad I don't have to play against him. I'm excited to get to play with LT and I'm excited to be in San Diego."

The Chargers are equally upbeat about adding Burnett to possibly upgrade the spot opposite starter Stephen Cooper.

Burnett figures to push Tim Dobbins and Matt Wilhelm for the starting role. Wilhelm started the season as the starter but was pushed aside by the more physical Dobbins.

And if Burnett isn't in on early down, it figures the athletic player will see the field on passing downs.

"I believe anywhere you go, it's open competition," Burnett said. "I'm looking to be a player. I came here for the opportunity to play and that's all I can ask for. I think your play speaks louder than anything."

He started but four games in five seasons in Dallas, but was also a key contributor on special teams.

If nothing else, the learning curve with the Chargers' defense doesn't figure to be steep for Burnett. He played in the 3-4 alignment the past couple of years with the Cowboys under the watchful eye of head coach Wade Phillips.

It was Phillips, before taking the Cowboys' post, who installed the 3-4 in San Diego.

"I think they're going to use me a little bit more in some of the packages they have," Burnett said. "It's a very similar style defense (to Dallas). I assume I'll be a big part of the third-down package and the passing game."

The Chargers often ask their inside linebackers to drop back into coverage on throwing downs, with outside linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips making a bee line for the pocket.

Burnett's skills seem to fit what the Chargers are seeking.

NOTES, QUOTES


RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Stephen Dunn/Getty

--It's believed LaDainian Tomlinson gave the team some $4 million in cap relief when he renegotiated his contract for the next three years. The Chargers get $1.25 million in relief this coming season as while Tomlinson's 2009 salary stays at $6.75 million; $2.8 million of it was structured as a signing bonus, which the Chargers can spread out over three years. "I was just happy I got the chance to restructure rather than be released or traded," Tomlinson said.

--It was among the wackiest calls last year when Ed Hochuli blew a play dead in Denver, a play in which he incorrectly ruled Jay Cutler had thrown an incomplete pass instead of it being a fumble recovery by the Chargers. Hochuli said rules didn't permit him to go back and reverse the call, once he had blown his whistle for a dead ball of an incomplete pass. But that rule could be addressed at next week's owners meetings. "We watched a lot of tape and think that is a play that people play through," Rich McKay, the co-chairman of the Competition Committee said in a conference call.

--While their AFC rival New England Patriots keep loading up on free agents, don't expect the Chargers to follow suit - they again will lean on the draft this offseason. "That's our philosophy," general manager A.J. Smith said. "But we're always looking out there to see if certain players might be attractive to us."

--Receivers coach Charlie Joiner lost his Hall of Fame bust when his house was among those damaged by the area's 2007 wild fires. Joiner said his bust was among his most prized possessions. "I'd say it was number one or two," Joiner said. "It was a nice bust. It was a nice memento, something I could look at and reflect back on some of the things I did in my life." The Pro Football Hall of Fame surprised Joiner recently by giving him a new bust.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd rather work through the draft. I'd rather identify our own players and invest in them instead of trying to find players from other teams." -- G.M. A.J. Smith on how he plans to spend the extra money available after RB LaDainian Tomlinson reworked his contract.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

It appears the majority of the Chargers focus is now on the draft.

The team never is a big player in free agency, but it doesn't have any free agent visits scheduled and will likely look at that market after seeing what it doesn't obtain in the draft.

TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY

With the addition of Kevin Burnett, the Chargers have compiled three decent inside linebackers to compete for the starting job and that should make all the players that much better.

The team still hasn't done anything in free agency at strong safety, and it looks as if the club will try to address that need possibly through the draft.

The running back situation is partly settled, with LaDainian Tomlinson returning and Darren Sproles expected to sign his franchise player offer sheet soon - or he could be agreeing to a long-term deal as the parties continue to work toward that goal.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Strong safety: All the blame can't be put at Clinton Hart's cleats for the Chargers' horrible pass defense, but there wasn't as much production from this spot as the team had hoped. Although it appears as if the Chargers are going to do something here, it will be through the draft.

2. Right guard: The departure of Mike Goff as a free agent is a concern, although the team did sign Kynan Forney. Forney wasn't active for the Chargers when on their roster last year but was a one-time starter in Atlanta.

3. Defensive end: Igor Olshansky was allowed to leave as a free agent and there doesn't seem to be a starter behind him on the depth chart. The Chargers could spend one of their top picks on a defensive end.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--RG Mike Goff has been reliable and a hard-nosed player, but the Chargers have said he won't be back.

--OLB Marques Harris was used on passing downs and has shown some promise, but he won't be re-signed.

--C Jeremy Newberry was a valuable backup when Nick Hardwick was injured early last season, but the Chargers won't re-sign him.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--WR Malcom Floyd (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has a good connection with QB Philip Rivers and can be a solid red-zone target. Injuries slowed him some down the stretch last year.

--CB Cletis Gordon (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) surprised some by getting that tender as some of his shortcomings were exposed when playing extended stretches last year. But he is a solid special teams player and has potential as a returner.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--OG Kynan Forney: Potential UFA; $4.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Cowboys; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2M SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--DE Igor Olshansky: UFA Cowboys; $18M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--LB Anthony Waters (released).

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