Although the Chargers were happy with Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm, their two new starters at the inside spot, they couldn't pass on Derek Smith. Coach Norv Turner has a history with Smith as he was in Washington when the Redskins drafted Smith in 1997.
During his four years in Washington, Smith eclipsed 100 tackles each year. Smith then moved on to San Francisco as a free agent and collected at least 100 tackles in five consecutive campaigns.
Smith was a solid contributor on some bad 49ers teams. But he suffered an eye injury that made him miss the 2006 season. He had surgery about a year ago to address it, and was able to play last season when he had 97 tackles.
But with the emergence of standout rookie Patrick Willis, Smith, 34, became expendable.
It's doubtful Smith will start for the Chargers, although he will be given a long look at Wilhelm's spot and figures to push him for a starting job. But if nothing else, the addition of Smith supplies the inside linebacker's spot with some experience, something it was lacking with relative youngsters Tim Dobbins, Brandon Siler and Anthony Waters forming the nucleus of depth.
--The Chargers' doctors will be busy as three players have surgeries pending: LT Marcus McNeill (shoulder), OLB Shawne Merriman (knee) and DT Jamal Williams (knees).
--G Scott Mruczkowski after coming back to the Chargers instead of testing the free-agent market. "We've got a great group of guys here and a great team," he said. "For me, it didn't make any sense to go somewhere else."
--Showing his love of the Chargers, Padres RF Brian Giles took the field in a Chargers helmet recently over at spring training and kept it on during stretching.
--Smith said while disappointed that his team fell short in the 2007 AFC Championship Game that he expects the players will grow in playing three pressure-packed playoff games. "I believe in the future it is going to serve us well. I believe we are getting better and growing as a football team."
--The Chargers tried to trade Lorenzo Neal before they released him this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I said, 'Yeah, you can give A.J. Smith and Norv Turner a call down in San Diego.'" -- Ex-49ers LB Derek Smith, after the San Francisco brass asked if there was anything it could do for him after he was released.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
Ah, the joys of being a young team which advanced to the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers head into the offseason minus a glaring needs which needs to be plugged.
They lost cornerback Drayton Florence to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but should be OK at that position.
The team could add a running back, maybe in the draft, with Michael Turner - LaDainian Tomlinson's fine backup - leaving to find work as a starter.
But most of the work here is going to be adding depth at certain spots. Whatever starters from 2007 not returning, there is already a solid backup in place.
1. Defensive tackle: Even with Pro Bowler Jamal Williams clogging the middle in the 3-4, the Chargers would be wise to look to the future here. Williams has 10 years under his belt and is having a hard time staying healthy.
2. Offensive tackle: Jeromey Clary stepped in for Shane Olivea last year and did a pretty decent job. But long-term the Chargers might look for a possible upgrade.
3. Quarterback: With Philip Rivers coming back from a serious knee injury and the possibility of backup Billy Volek fleeing in free agency, the Chargers could look here.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Michael Turner has long had the eye of many NFL general managers with his explosive running between the tackles. Turner saved the Chargers in the AFC divisional playoff game when coming on for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson. He's about to become very rich.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB Tyronne Gross (not tendered as ERFA).
--K Dave Rayner (not tendered as RFA) was brought in to cover for Nate Kaeding on kickoffs as Kaeding was kicking with a broken left leg. Rayner isn't in the picture, unless for being a training camp leg as Kaeding is expected to recover and resume the kickoff chores.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Marques Harris (tendered at $1.417M with 2nd-round pick as compensation).
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--RT Jeromey Clary stepped in and started the final six games, including all three in the playoffs. When Shane Olivea's play became inconsistent, Clary stepped in and the line had some of its best games of the season. He'll be back.
--CB Cletis Gordon saw some action in occasional dime packages with mixed results. But with Florence gone and Gordon able to return punts in a pinch, he'll probably stay.
--CB Steve Gregory doesn't figure strongly into their plans; hard to say his status.
--DT Brandon McKinney had some decent spurts when filling in in the rotation of Jamal Williams, Ryon Bingham and himself. Considering Williams' age and health status, McKinney should be back.
--LB Derek Smith: FA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Scott Mruczkowski: Potential RFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Marlon McCree (released).
--FB Lorenzo Neal (released).
--OT Shane Olivea (released).
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