Chargers Free Agency 2012: Who's In, Who's Out?

With the NFL Scouting Combine now in the rearview mirror, Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith must shift his attention to the free agent market and a number of key Bolts that will not be back with the team in 2012. Just as a refresher, here are the players expected to be wearing different uniforms next season for one reason or another.

Vincent Jackson, WR --- There will be plenty of teams willing to pay him in the area of $10 million a year in a long-term contract so the likelihood of him remaining in San Diego is miniscule. The team still maintains the fact that the franchise tag is a viable option, but don’t expect it to be used this time around.

Kris Dielman, OG
--- His retirement really doesn’t come as a surprise, but it still sets the Bolts back. For Dielman’s sake, hopefully he has a healthy life after football following his scary concussion incident this past season.

Marcus McNeill, OT --- Scheduled to make $10 million in 2012, the team is expected to cut him loose before his March 16 roster bonus kicks in. Due to lingering injury concerns with his neck, it’s hard to blame the Bolts for cutting ties with a damaged player set to earn that much money.

Luis Castillo, DE --- He is as good as gone at this point saving the team nearly $5 million against the cap in 2012. Still he was a solid starter for more than half a decade and this move will put a lot of pressure on Corey Liuget to step up as a full-time starter in year two.

Nick Hardwick, C ---- He will hit the free agent market and could be allowed to walk by the team in favor of the younger Colin Baxter. There is (however) mutual interest to keep Hardwick in San Diego which is a positive sign.

Jared Gaither, OT --- This becomes priority number one with McNeill on his way out. Protecting quarterback Philip Rivers’ blindside has to top the list for GM Smith when it comes to offseason objectives.

Mike Tolbert, RB --- It seems that he too will be allowed to leave in a similar manner to Darren Sproles two years ago. Although he is not as dynamic as Sproles, losing him should not be underestimated and his ability to break the plain in goal line situations is invaluable.

Dante Hughes, CB
--- He is a foregone conclusion to be released due to the $1 million cap hit he carries. Although he wasn’t a key contributor, the move will leave the team awfully thin in the secondary

Now that we know what the team is looking at as far as departures and must-sign players, it’s time to assess the greatest needs for the Bolts moving forward. But after a list of players that long, it seems like it would be easier to define what the Chargers don't need rather than list out their deficiencies.

Although the Bolts aren’t losing any pass rushers to free agency, that is probably because they don’t have any to lose. The need to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks ranks highly on the wish-list for this offseason and it is likely that the team will address that shortcoming via the NFL Draft. Free agency is a possibility, but don’t expect the Bolts to make a serious run at Mario Williams who is the biggest name available in the pass rushing department.

Aside from the clear need for a pass rush, depth seems to be the most pressing issue facing the team in 2012. If all of the aforementioned players leave, the club will be woefully shorthanded along the offensive line, at wide receiver, on the defensive front, and in the secondary. Finding some high-quality, economical depth at each of those areas will be a real focal point for management.

GM Smith’s philosophy of building through the draft has been quite successful during his tenure with the club as the team has finished at or above .500 in all eight of his seasons as the Executive Vice President and GM. Still there is no denying the recent decline having missed the postseason for two consecutive years and having an apparent lack of depth across the board. Free agency will have to play a large role in rebuilding this Bolts team if they hope to turn around these recent misfortunes.

Now it’s your turn to weigh-in! Which player do you believe will be the team’s biggest loss this offseason? Is/are there any particular player(s) you think the club should focus its resources on rather than letting them enter free agency? What area(s) of need do you believe would be best filled in free agency with a proven commodity? Will this be the year that the team signs some big fish from the free agency pond or will it be business as usual once again? Please fill up the comments section below with your input!

March 2, 2012

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