Williams done, Fonoti and Gates next?

Locking up defensive tackle Jamal Williams was just one piece of the puzzle that the San Diego Chargers continue to put together. It began with Keenan McCardell and Steve Foley and has continued with the Williams signing. The Bolts are locking up the core difference makers on the team and two players remain – tagged as "high priority".

Defensive tackle Jamal Williams, the anchor of the number three rushing defense in the league, signed an extension which keeps him in a Chargers uniform through the 2010 season.

It was a deal the Chargers weren't willing to give to John Parrella a couple of years ago and one they were more than willing to sign their Defensive Player of the Year and Lineman of the Year to.

"It all starts with number 76," coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Williams. "It takes two people to block him. He is in there, in the middle of it all the time, and Jamal has all the pieces that you look for in a 3-4 nose tackle."

Williams' play doesn't show up on the stat sheet, although he does possess the ability to pressure the pocket, but his main job is freeing up the linebackers to make plays. It is the reason he was a Pro Bowl first-team alternate, as well as a member of USA Today's All-Joe Team and All-Pro recipient from The Associated Press, Football Digest and SportsIllustrated.com.

"This extension means a lot to me because a lot of guys in this league dream of a chance to play their entire career with one team," said Williams. "I'm just really excited that I'll have a chance to finish my career here."

Now the team has two immediate players that are due, Toniu Fonoti and Antonio Gates. With Fonoti due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, it would seem he is at the forefront. But Gates remains the only unsigned player on the team, although he has been tendered $380K as an exclusive rights free agent.

"Fonoti is a priority but Gates is the most important right now and they continue to focus on him," said a source with close ties to the team.

Gates has played the good will ambassador by making every voluntary workout and showing his team spirit.

"I don't want to let my teammates down," the Pro Bowl tight end said.

And his contract figures to be the toughest. Coming off a season where he broke the record for most touchdown catches by a tight end, Gates is due a large raise. But, his leverage isn't that great given his tenure in the league. Negotiations have been ongoing and his signing has been a priority since day one of the offseason.

It wouldn't surprise to actually see Fonoti get his due before Gates because of the factors involved in determining Gates' worth.

"They will get it done before training camp," the source said with certainty.

If they do lock up those two players, the core of the team will be setup nicely for a run towards the playoffs for many years to come.


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