San Diego's 2010 offseason was filled with roster turnover, as the team elected to go younger and cheaper at several positions including nose tackle and running back. 2011 could produce much the same as San Diego stands well positioned for the draft while facing a number of tough free agent decisions within its roster.
Who among those players will San Diego allow to walk in favor of retaining better-fitting pieces? Here's a list of upcoming free agents San Diego could elect to let walk, as well as players that could get the axe to free up space to retain those San Diego wishes to keep.
The sparkplug player in San Diego’s offense, Sproles was the only running back retained from last year, though he came at a high cost. San Diego’s back to back one-year tags on Sproles have resulted in over $14 million in salary across the 2009 and 2010 season.
That is a lot to pay for a running back with less than 1,000 career rushing yards who ranked middle of the pack in return averages last year as well. He is still a valuable piece of the team as a multi-tool back who is a great receiving option, but San Diego’s last two deals may be their undoing as Sproles may be priced out of San Diego.
There is still the chance that Merriman is traded this offseason, but assuming he eventually relents to sign the one-year tender, Merriman will enter 2010 as one of the most watched Chargers.
A contract impasse following his tendering this year thwarted any potential draft-weekend trade, while Smith has maintained a firm stance on not wanting to offer up a long term contract for a player who has spent the past to seasons either out or slowed by injury.
Given the frustration San Diego brass has experienced dealing with Merriman this offseason, they may elect not to pursue him even if he has a rebound 2010 year.
Craig Davis has shown flashes of ability coupled with frequent time spent either injured or riding the bench. San Diego prefers to keep depth at other positions, and therefore carries five rather than six wide receivers. Given three spots are likely entrenched with Jackson, Floyd, and Naanee the team must be choosy when deciding upon how to round out the final two spots.
Unless Davis shows production rather than potential, his time will likely be up to make room for another promising youngster to be developed in his stead.
Realistically the team is likely to retain, at most, one of the two inside linebackers. Brandon Siler looks like an emerging starter while third-round pick Donald Butler should be making a strong push for playing time before the season is over.
Cooper has the edge at keeping his job because his situation as the team’s defensive signal caller and locker room leadership make him more valuable to San Diego than he would to another team, while Burnett was a solid but unspectacular rotation guy in his first year with the team.
Ultimately 2011 may lead to a purging of both unless one of these two can fend off the promising youth looking to take over at ILB.
One of the best candidates for the 'unexpected departure' category, Hester may lose out due to redundancy at the fullback position. At present, the team has three fullbacks on the roster thanks to hard-nosed Cory Jackson, something unusual in an era where some teams have eschewed the position entirely.
Jackson fits the role of a lead-blocker that can ram open holes for Matthews while picking up the occasional tough inside yard.
Tolbert fits the bill of an offensive weapon at Fullback who is still developing as a blocker, but has the downhill running ability and nice hands to give the team a legitimate threat with the football.
Hester falls into a no-man’s land between the two. He isn’t going to pound open holes as well as Jackson, but lacks the hands and running ability of Tolbert.
As a power-back/fullback tweener, what Hester will bring to the offense over Tolbert or Jackson is unclear and leaves him the odd man out.
Wilson was retained because he is a versatile tight end/H-back combo that is willing to block, but can catch the occasional ball in the red zone. Also helping his cause was Chicago’s hefty payout for blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.
When San Diego drafted Dedrick Epps however they landed a player extremely similar to Wilson. Both are similar in build and style, while Epps has perhaps more upside as a blocker with a slightly bigger frame to Wilson.
Unless Epps looks very poor in his rookie year, don’t be surprised if Kris Wilson is let go and San Diego looks to the mid-rounds to find a Dennis Pitta type prospect to give them better variety at the position.