Free Agent Forecast: Final Audition

Sunday's finale in Denver may be meaningless as far as the playoffs are concerned, but the game is important to several Chargers players. San Diego has a slew of important players set for free agency, all of whom will be using the Broncos game as a final audition for 2011.

The biggest name on San Diego's list of pending free agents is Vincent Jackson. However, his situation will likely be settled along with the collective bargaining agreement. If San Diego maintains the right to use the franchise tag, it will slap it on Jackson to retain his rights for another year. If not, he will go to the highest bidder.

Perhaps the most interesting case is that of good-but-not-great safety Eric Weddle. He is an intelligent player with good tackling technique and outstanding ball skills, but he is limited in terms of power and range. The Chargers would like to keep him but they will not overpay.

Another interesting case is that of Jeromey Clary, who is enjoying the best year of his career. He has been involved in fewer than a dozen negative plays this season (five penalties and 6.5 sacks allowed) and has shined while blocking for runs and screens. The Bolts have a starting-caliber player waiting in reserve (Brandyn Dombrowski), but Clary has likely played his way to a competitive offer from San Diego.

LB Stephen Cooper
Stephen Dunn/Getty
Other players with potential in-house replacements are more likely to depart. Stephen Cooper is likely gone, set to be replaced by Brandon Siler (also a free agent) or 2010 third-round pick Donald Butler (who missed this season with a knee injury). Fellow starting linebacker Kevin Burnett is also an unrestricted free agent, but he has been San Diego's defensive MVP this season and will be a priority re-sign.

Starting DE Jacques Cesaire could return on a low-money deal, but he will likely find more opportunity elsewhere with Vaughn Martin set to take his snaps. Travis Johnson will also head out the door as the Chargers bring in more youth on the defensive line.

Perhaps no position will see more turnover than receiver. In addition to Jackson, fellow starter Malcom Floyd is set to test the open market. Floyd has shown the ability to be a No. 1 receiver, but not the consistency or the durability. He should return, but that is not a given.

Legedu Naanee will also be a free agent, assuming players once again need just four accrued seasons to reach that designation. Because of that, Patrick Crayton is the only Chargers receiver assured of coming back.

Philip Rivers may lose other pass catchers, as well. Darren Sproles has 57 catches through 15 games, but he is a pricey luxury that is no longer worth the expense. Also, Antonio Gates' backup, Randy McMichael, is a free agent who will not get a big raise to stay in San Diego.

Other pending unrestricted free agents include QB Billy Volek and FS Paul Oliver. Volek has a chance to return, while Oliver will likely forfeit his spot in the rotation to Darrell Stuckey.

No matter how this shakes out, many of these players will not be back in San Diego, making Sunday's season finale not just a final audition, but a probable farewell.

Will you watch Sunday's Chargers-Broncos game? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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