RB Michael Bennett (Donald Miralle/Getty)
The Chargers continue to make sweeping changes to their roster by releasing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams. The longtime heart and soul of the team's interior defense was let go, joining LaDainian Tomlinson as past featured players on the streets.
But unlike Tomlinson, there is a chance Williams could return -- but that's no guarantee.
"This is a difficult time of year and the most difficult part of our job," general manager A.J. Smith said. "Jamal has been an anchor of our defense for 12 seasons. He's battled courageously at one of the most punishing positions on the field, and I respect him immensely."
Williams tore his triceps in last year's season-opener and landed on IR, wiping out the majority of his season. But it appeared the Chargers were counting on Williams to get healthy and return to shore up a shoddy run defense.
Williams, though, will soon turn 34 and was to earn some $6 million next season, which includes a roster bonus.
That was too rich for the Chargers' blood, not to mention Williams' physical state is such that him coming back to play at a Pro Bowl level was doubtful.
While Williams' release was a bit shocking, the team reversed course with another key player: running back Darren Sproles.
The team, it appeared, was going to let Sproles go after one year of being its franchise player. But while the Chargers didn't get all that much bang for their $6.6 million they gave Sproles last year, they have decided to seek his return.
Sproles, who also returns kickoffs and punts, was tendered as a restricted free agent with a first- and third-round choice and a $7 million price tag.
That's awfully rich, but no one is quite sure if it is enough to scare off another team in an uncapped season. It could also signal that the Chargers and Sproles are nearing a long-term deal.
The Chargers did decide to move on without another running back, and that is veteran Michael Bennett.
But it was the news that Williams is leaving and Sproles is staying -- for now -- which caught many Chargers watchers off-guard.
With Williams gone, the Chargers will be seeking a bigger and better defensive tackle than what their roster shows now. Behind Williams is Ryon Bingham, but he doesn't have nearly the size of skill sets which led Williams to three Pro Bowl selections.
So in addition to running backs being at the top of Smith's list, he needs to find a massive defensive tackle that can fit into the Chargers' 3-4 alignment.
--OLB Shawne Merriman has expressed disappointment with being a restricted free agent, a distinction necessitated by the NFL going to an uncapped year next season. "Business is business but some things just aren't right," he said.
General manager A.J. Smith just shrugged. "It goes with the territory," he said. "Everybody has an opinion and voices their opinion and you understand that."
--DE Luis Castillo underwent shoulder surgery and has completed his rehab.
--DE Jacques Cesaire had procedures to clean up debris in his elbow and knee and can start working out again.
--C Nick Hardwick, who had ankle surgery last season, had a shoulder operation when the season ended. He will be ready for the Chargers' minicamp sessions.
--The team, which is looking at a downtown site for a new stadium, said it might link the development with a sports arena as well. So far, the issue has not come to a vote, which many consider an uphill battle to get passed.
--TE Antonio Gates had his No. 44 basketball jersey retired at Kent State. "Kent State has done so much for me," Gates said. "The man I was when I left Kent State is not the person I was when I got to Kent State."
--The Chargers have had a character issues with many players so maybe that is why their recent trip to the Combine came with plenty of personal interviews. "I think one of the most important things we get from the Combine is what goes on off the field," said John Spanos, the team's director of college scouting.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This was the year we decided we were going to move forward and we are not looking back." -- GM A.J. Smith on releasing future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers are going to try their best to keep some of their top-notch players from vacating. But as always, the focus when it comes to bringing in new players will be the draft.
Although with the numerous shortcoming on the both sides of the ball, this might be the year the Chargers are more active enticing other players to come west.
The Chargers, under A.J. Smith, have never been big players in the free-agent market. But might that change this year with so many holes appearing on the Chargers roster?
The release of LaDainian Tomlinson and Jamal Williams underscores just how thin the Chargers are at that position.
But the Chargers do get a break with it being an uncapped year as they can likely bring back OLB Shawne Merriman, WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and left tackle Marcus McNeill at reasonable prices; all have been allocated first- and third-round tenders.
1. Running back: The Chargers' need here might have lessened slightly with the news they will seek to retain Darren Sproles. But with the subtraction of LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Bennett, the Chargers don't have a true every down back on the roster.
2. Defensive tackle: With Pro Bowler Jamal Williams being released, there is a huge need here -- especially with the Chargers running a 3-4 alignment. Don't be surprised if the Chargers burn their first draft pick on a space-eating defensive tackle.
3. Right tackle: The Chargers have been trying to upgrade this spot for a couple of years but without much luck. They would probably be OK going into the season with Jeromey Clary and Brandyn Dombrowski at this spot, but that doesn't mean they won't be looking hard to get better.