The San Diego Chargers re-signed center Nick Hardwick to a three-year, $13.5 million contract just before free agency opened on Tuesday, filling one of the team's needs just before the 30-year-old hit the open market. Now the Chargers must turn their attention to filling the rest of their holes on both sides of the ball.
The Chargers released long-time offensive tackle Marcus McNeill on Tuesday, and are in the middle of trying to re-sign Jared Gaither, who filled in admirably after McNeill was lost for the season in 2011.
While the Bolts focus on getting Gaither back and re-signing receiver Vincent Jackson, don't expect them to go out and make a big splash in free agency. General manager A.J. Smith will do what he has always done and that is search for value, not big names.
San Diego would like to have running back Mike Tolbert return as well, but that is less likely because he will probably command a much higher salary elsewhere.
The Chargers need help along the offensive line, and re-signing Gaither and Hardwick would certainly help. In addition to that, San Diego needs to find a replacement for retired guard Kris Dielman and could use an upgrade at right tackle, since Jeromey Clary's ceiling is that of an average NFL tackle and he hasn't even gotten there yet.
On defense San Diego could also use a solid safety to pair with Eric Weddle and an edge rusher to take some of the pressure off of Shaun Phillips. At cornerback, I like Shareece Wright who the team drafted last year but didn't throw into action much during his rookie season. He could end up being a steal once he gets some time on the field.
The Chargers will likely not be in the mix for a big-name along the offensive line, like New Orleans Saints guard Carl Nicks, and instead will either target line talent during the draft or wait to see who is available on the open market next week when prices go down.
Don't underestimate the importance of getting Hardwick back though. He has been one of the NFL's most consistent centers over the past few years and his ability is undervalued league-wide. He is a stud and losing him and starting over with a new center in the middle of a rebuilt offensive line would have been devastating.
Now Chargers fans have to just hope and pray that Smith will fill out the rest of the roster with good values instead of taking risks on castoffs from other franchises.