SAN DIEGO — Speedy little Darren Sproles is
staying with the San Diego Chargers, after all.
The Chargers placed the maximum first- and
third-round tender on Sproles on Thursday, one of two surprise moves by the team in
the hours before free agency began.
The Chargers also released tackle Jamal
Williams, a 12-year veteran who has been the run-stuffing anchor of the
defensive line. Williams sustained an arm injury in the 2009 season
opener and missed the rest of the year. He'll turn 34 next month and
also has a history of knee injuries.
Williams had been one of just two players left
from Bobby Beathard's tenure as general manager. Beathard, who retired
in 2000, picked Williams in the second round of the 1998 supplemental
Sproles was offered a contract for $7,283,000.
If the five-year veteran signs an offer sheet with another team, San
Diego would have the right to match the offer or receive first- and
third-round draft picks as compensation for losing him.
Six days earlier, word made its way around the
NFL that the Chargers informed Sproles' agent, Gary Wichard, that they
didn't intend to tender the running back.
"We talked about either-or scenarios, and I
think what happens when you have those conversations is that they end up
going to the agents and they end up going to the media and then somehow
it gets twisted and it goes in different directions," Chargers general
manager A.J. Smith said.
"We decided that in the best interests of the
Chargers, that this is what we're going to do."
Said Wichard: "I know they always wanted Darren
back and we've talked about that. It gives us an opportunity to
continue to talk about the long-term deal both sides want. I think they
realize there's tremendous interest in Darren out there."
The sides didn't make progress on a long-term
deal last offseason after Sproles was made the franchise player, a
designation that earned him $6.6 million.
There might be more impetus to get a deal done
this year, now that LaDainian Tomlinson is gone. He was released last
week after nine brilliant seasons in which he reached eighth on the
NFL's career rushing list with 12,490 yards.
"We'd like for him to be here long-term, like
last year, but I don't know where that goes," Smith said.
The Chargers, whose season ended with a
shocking playoff loss to the New York Jets, still don't view Sproles as
an every-down back. And with backup Michael Bennett being released
Thursday, they need running backs.
"Bottom line, there's some new running backs
coming in here, and we're going to do the best we can to get some folks
in here," Smith said.
The Chargers have always valued Sproles as a
multiple threat who can play running back, catch passes out of the
backfield and return punts and kickoffs.
Sproles was second to Tomlinson last year with
343 yards and three touchdowns on 93 carries, an average of 3.7 yards
per carry. He was fourth with 45 catches for 497 yards and four TDs. He
was also the team's primary kickoff and punt returner and scored on a punt
"None of that has changed," Smith said. "There
might be some games he'll have a different, heavier load, and that
would be up to the coaches, depending on the opponent. But no, the role
is the same for him. It's why we got him in the draft and how we've
The Chargers also made first-and third-round
tenders to outside linebacker Shawne Merriman ($3,269,000), left tackle
Marcus McNeill ($3,168,000) and wide receivers Malcom Floyd ($3,168,000)
and Vincent Jackson ($3,268,000).
Merriman's original five-year contract is
expiring. But because next season is an uncapped year, he would have
needed six seasons to become an unrestricted free agent.
"No, I don't like the situation but I'm along
with 212 players," Merriman said in an e-mail, referring to the number
of players impacted by the uncapped year. "I just want to get on with
playing football because that's the only thing that matters."
Jackson is a Pro Bowler coming off his second
straight 1,000-yard season. He recently pleaded guilty to his second DUI
since joining the NFL and likely will face at least a one-game
suspension by the league next season.
"We're monitoring that situation and we're
aware of all those things with Vincent," Smith said.
Smith said releasing Williams "was just a
difficult decision. We're making them all the time here."
The GM said the Chargers continue to try to
move cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
"He's on the market and there's a little bit
of interest," Smith said.
Cromartie has drawn plenty of fan ire after
freezing up as New York's Shonn Greene hit the hole at the start of a
53-yard touchdown run that gave the Jets a 10-point lead midway through
the fourth quarter. Cromartie eventually caught up to Greene and gave
him a shove well after he'd crossed the goal line.
Of the Chargers' seven unrestricted
free agents, tackle Jon Runyan, center-guard Dennis Norman and special
teams ace Kassim Osgood definitely won't be back, Smith said. … Other
restricted free agents tendered were DE Travis Johnson, first round,
$1,226,000; T Jeromey Clary, second-round, $1,684,000; third-string QB
Charlie Whitehurst, third round, $1,176,000; and LB Tim Dobbins,
fifth-round, $1,176,000. … Of the 10 Chargers who either had or will
have surgery, LB Kevin Burnett (neck) is listed as having a