If I were a carpenter…

Chargers expert Michael Lombardo takes the reins at general manager and proposes a controversial move that would shore up San Diego's reputation and long-term stability. Read on to discover why the Bolts ought to be more like the Cincinnati Bengals to avoid becoming the New England Patriots.

On the heels of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, the Chargers should release starting inside linebacker Stephen Cooper. This would be a difficult decision, given that Cooper paced the team with 108 tackles last season, but the time for drastic measures has arrived.

It would be a different story if this was the first time Cooper got in trouble with steroids. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Cooper also got in trouble during his senior year at Maine for reportedly being in possession of approximately 1,000 steroid pills. He pled guilty in federal court to the misdemeanor offense and failed to hear his name called in the 2003 NFL draft as a result.

Because Cooper has been reprimanded twice as a result of steroids, it is hard to believe his latest snafu was just a misstep, although that's the story he's going with.

"I regret that I mistakenly took a stimulant that I did not realize at the time was banned by the NFL," Cooper said in a statement. "I support the NFL's anti-doping policies, and understand that I must serve a suspension even though the stimulant that I took was not used before any game and was not used to enhance my performance."

LB Stephen Cooper
Harry How/Getty

The Chargers can hardly afford to employ a player who seems determined to get around the NFL's anti-doping policy. After all, the team is getting an unwanted reputation for using chemically-enhanced players. Starters Shawne Merriman and Andrew Pinnock have both been suspended for breaking the League's substance-abuse policy, and Luis Castillo admitted to using steroids prior to being selected by the Chargers in the first round of the 2005 draft.

Once Cooper's transgressions are taken into account, the Chargers are on the verge of being labeled bigger cheaters than the New England Patriots. And seeing how the Patriots have been dragged through the mud this offseason, the Chargers should do anything in their power to avoid being lumped in with the Pats.

The proper response is the one now being employed by the suddenly hardnosed Cincinnati Bengals. After seeing several bad seeds undercut one of the NFL's most talented rosters, the Bengals toughened up and released WR Chris Henry and LB Odell Thurman after they failed to fall in line.

The Chargers have some added incentive for releasing Cooper. For one thing, it creates opportunities for the talented backups stuck behind him. While 10-year veteran Derek Smith could slide into the starting lineup, second-year studs Anthony Waters and Brandon Siler could get the opportunity to play in the base defense, something that would be unlikely to happen with Cooper on the roster.

Cutting Cooper would also clear a roster spot for Tim Dobbins, a special-teams standout who faces an uphill climb in his quest to make the roster as is.

Finally, cutting ties with Cooper when he still has four years left on his contract would free up some money that could go to more deserving players. Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie, Philip Rivers, Marcus McNeill and Luis Castillo are all up for extensions; each of those players is far less expendable than Cooper.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.

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