Said club president Dean Spanos, "This is a very difficult and emotional time for everybody right now. It's hard to put into words how everybody is taken back. He struggled with his cancer for nine months and he fought until the very end. It's just hard to say how we feel right now.
"I talked to him the day before yesterday. I saw him Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and I saw him early Wednesday. He was alert. His mind was sharp. He was talking about the draft. He was very focused on what we were going to do in the next few weeks. The last thing he said to me was that he was sorry that he wasn't going to be there to help us prepare for the draft.
"(From the beginning) he acknowledged that he had (the cancer), but he fought through it. It was business as usual. He came in every day. He never complained. I think he missed one or two days during that seven or eight month period before he really got sick in the last month or so.
"I'll remember his sense of humor. He had a great sense of humor. I just enjoyed working with him. He was serious -- he always had that tough thing about him -- but he had a heart of gold."
Butler had helped build the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the '90s, but his tenure in Buffalo ended on a negative note because of a contract dispute with owner Ralph Wilson. But Wilson recognized how special Butler was.
"John and I were close friends over those years, sharing many great memories together," Wilson said. "He was a fierce competitor and a great football man. His love for his work was second only to his love for his family. He always had time to be a coach for his daughter, Andrea, when she was competing in volleyball and softball. John and I spoke yesterday. I told him that he was a Marine all the way -- a very courageous individual. I send both his wife, Alice, and daughter, Andrea, my deepest condolences."
Said former Bills wide receiver Steve Tasker, "There were a lot of people, guys I played with, people in this organization, this building, and guys around the National Football League (that) just didn't believe cancer could kill him. We just honestly didn't believe it could happen. That's the kind of guy he was. We just didn't believe it could kill him.
"He was the general manager of that team that had the greatest comeback in NFL history. We just didn't believe he could lose the battle. Today we got a slap in the face with reality. He's going to be missed. He left an impression on a lot of people in this town and across the National Football League."
--After auditioning numerous kickers, the Chargers have decided to bring back Steve Christie. The veteran still is solid from close-in, but last year proved his leg strength isn't what it used to be. He did kick one from 53 yards, but he was just 5 of 12 from outside 40 yards. Christie, who's entering his 14th season, did kick two game-winning field goals in overtime in 2002. Overall, he was 18 of 26.
--Coach Marty Schottenheimer is having more input into the draft this year, but not because John Butler is ailing. Schottenheimer said the time he spent assembling his first Chargers staff last offseason has been devoted to scouting prospects this offseason.
--LB Junior Seau nixed a trade proposal presented to him by the Cardinals. It appears Arizona was willing to strike first, and not wait until June 1 when he is released. Seau is due a $2.7 million bonus come April 15.
--Assistant GM A.J. Smith on Jimmy Raye, the Chargers' director of college scouting and son of the longtime NFL assistant of the same name: "He is sharp and very articulate."
--WR Eric Parker was signed to a one-year deal. When Curtis Conway got hurt last year, it opened a door for Parker, and the Chargers were impressed in what they saw. Parker had 17 catches for a touchdown and 268 yards.
--WR Dondre Gilliam, who spent most of last year on the practice squad, was also brought back.
FB Joey Goodspeed, who saw action mostly on Chargers special teams in 12 games last year, was signed.
Three street free agents, WR Tim Baker, LB Jude Waddy and QB Cleo Lemon, were signed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: He's the best judge of talent I've ever seen. He knew what it takes to win in this league. Professionally, we've lost the best there is. Personally, I've lost my best friend." -- A.J. Smith, on the passing of John Butler.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: Despite Junior Seau's pending departure, the team feels comfortable that backup Zeke Moreno is ready to take on the starting role at weakside linebacker.
The big needs remain cornerback, depth along the defensive line's interior, and kicker. Look for the team to bring some street agents in at cornerback for camp, and draft someone high -- possibly with its first pick in the opening round, at No. 15 overall.
The safety position is also fluid, where there's been talk of switching cornerback Ryan McNeil to free safety, and moving Rogers Beckett over to strong safety to replace Rodney Harrison. But neither plan is etched in stone.
Chargers Team Notes
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