Source: USA Today
There was a time, not that long ago, that the Chargers would enter an offseason with just a few areas to upgrade.
Those days, like the Chargers appearing in the playoffs, are long gone.
General manager A. J. Smith has a full plate of issues to address this offseason. And his plate got stuffed a little more with this week's news that Kris Dielman, a Pro Bowl left guard, is retiring.
Add Dielman's spot to the growing list of positions needing tweaking as the Chargers try to snap their two-year streak of not making the postseason.
Dielman's decision wasn't that big of a surprise, although there was hope earlier last month that he would play again. But a concussion suffered on Oct. 23 in a loss to the Jets - and Dielman suffering a grand mal seizure on the flight home - was too much for Dielman to ignore.
It's believed he was cleared to play again. But those same medical people granting him that, couldn't predict what would happen if he sustained another concussion.
Dielman, with a solid nine-year career on his resume and two young children and a wife at home, elected to stop playing.
"I love this game. I've given it everything I have," Dielman said. "It's time for me to focus on my future and my quality of life."
Dielman was among the most popular Chargers during his stay, both on and off the field. That was evident by the number of Chargers attending his retirement ceremony and his connection with the fans that helped vote him onto the Chargers' all-time team when the franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary.
It was not only Dielman's skillset that connected him with others. It was his no-nonsense, lunch-pail mentality that struck a chord with anyone ever meeting him.
That's what makes him leaving the game on something other than on his own terms so disappointing.
But that's football, and many think Dielman reached the correct verdict - although it does magnify the work this depleted roster must overcome if the Chargers want to win their second playoff game in five years next season.
Dielman's position can be replaced but not his tenacity. But the first guy up to try just that will be Tyronne Green, someone who has long been praised by coach Norv Turner, although most of his work has been in a backup role.
But when Dielman went down and eventually landed on injured reserve, it was Green taking his position. Green would start the first three games after Dielman was hurt, then the final five after Green returned from a hand injury.
But Green could be just one of three fresh faces on an offensive line that is entrusted to keep the Chargers' $92 million investment, quarterback Philip Rivers, in one piece.
It's expected that left tackle Marcus McNeill, another Pro Bowler, will be released soon. He's in line for a $10 million roster bonus and the Chargers have significant concerns regarding the health of his neck. McNeill missed the final eight games with a neck injury; in 2009 he underwent an operation for his ailing neck, and he entered the league with spinal cord issues.
On Dielman's other side at center, Nick Hardwick will likely be testing the free-agency market.
Hardwick, the third Pro Bowler on the line, has made it no secret he wants to stay in San Diego. And Smith loves Hardwick's work ethic and old-school approach.
But Smith, as he has done before, will set his value on Hardwick. If that figure doesn't match, or come close, to what Hardwick is expected to fetch on the open market, it could be adios to Hardwick as well.
This week, though, was to give Dielman a fond goodbye and to salute him for his stellar work in the trenches. Not only will the Chargers miss Dielman's spot-on blocks that he held through the whistle, but his demeanor that was a combination of confidence and nastiness.
—Chargers fans are getting work up over the possibility of wide receiver Vincent Jackson leaving the team as a free agent. The Chargers appear reluctant to put the franchise tag on him and they have proven numerous times in the past how difficult it is for them to find common ground with Jackson on a long-term deal. Past negotiations have stalled over Jackson's off-the-field issues, which seem to not be of concern to general manager A.J. Smith anymore.
"I'm comfortable with where we are now," Smith to SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week. What miffs the Chargers' boosters is that Jackson, the team's leading receiver the past four years despite missing a chunk of 2010 in a contract dispute, is leaving with little compensation. After watching quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Michael Turner and Darren Sproles scoot out the door with little coming the other way, the team's fan base could be up in arms once again.
—Center Nick Hardwick couldn't hide his appreciation for the retiring Kris Dielman. "It has been an honor to play next to Kris for so many years," Hardwick said. "His loyalty and toughness gave me and the guys who played with him a sense of security, knowing that we had the baddest guy on the field. And we knew nobody wanted to find out how bad a dude he was. He taught us about loyalty, willpower and friendship. I will certainly miss being in the huddle standing next to my best friend and personal protector."
—Defensive end Luis Castillo, who missed 15 games with a broken leg last year and has been with a Chargers since they made him a first-round pick in the 2005 draft, could be released. He's due $4.5 million next season.
—When quarterback Philip Rivers was talking about his Pro Bowl experience recently, he reflected on teammate Ryan Mathews' stint in Hawaii as well. Mathews rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year in his second season. "Ryan fit in great," Rivers said. "He ran the ball well and fit in well with the guys. Not that he needed any confidence, but it just lets you know, 'Hey, I belong here.' With another offseason, I'm looking for Ryan to really take another step. I think with him getting a whole offseason here and with the progress he made last year he's going to be a big key in our balance and be a big-play guy for us."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Kris Dielman was the meanest, toughest and most hard-nosed player I had ever played with." - FB Jacob Hester on retiring Pro Bowl LG Kris Dielman.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With Kris Dielman gone, the Chargers are showing confidence in Tyronne Green that he can replace him. But that's not to say they won't be looking at other options, although it's clear they would prefer having Green take over.
A bigger concern is what is behind Green, second-year pro Stephen Schilling.
Among the Chargers' shortcomings last year was a clear lack of depth when front-line players were injured. Schilling did OK in spot play last year - he started two games at left guard - but the Chargers have to make sure they don't get caught hamstrung like last year when the level of play dropped significantly when a starter went down.
Left tackle: The Chargers have options here, but which course do they take? Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill is under contract but must pass a physical to prove his neck has mended after ending last season on injured reserve. The Chargers could decide to pass on paying McNeill his $10 million roster bonus and turn their thoughts to backup Jared Gaither. But Gaither is a free agent, and could have played his way into a big payday with his showing last year when McNeill was down.
Outside linebacker: The Chargers are in desperate need of a pass rusher and they are hopeful to find someone to start opposite Shaun Phillips in their 3-4 alignment. The Chargers' patience with former first-round pick Larry English has about abated.
Strong safety: Ever since prematurely showing All-Pro strong safety Rodney Harrison the door the Chargers have been seeking a reliable, hard-hitting replacement. That quest continues one more year as the team missed on Bob Sanders last season and is looking for an upgrade over his replacement, Steve Gregory. This unit needs a thumper and would prefer it comes from the strong-safety position.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.