Bolts Keep Sproles Off the Market

For the first time in a long time, Darren Sproles lost a game of tag. Sproles, who was hoping to test the free agent market, was designated by the Chargers on Wednesday as the team's non-exclusive franchise player. The move means Sproles is all but certain to return to the Chargers next season.

As a non-exclusive franchise player, Darren Sproles is still free to negotiate with other teams. However, the Chargers have the right to match any offer or decline and receive two first-round draft picks.

"We plan on Darren being here," said GM A.J. Smith. "If he gets an offer sheet (from another team), he will cost a team two No. 1s, or we could match the offer. Obviously we don't know what other teams think about Darren."

RB Darren Sproles
Stephen Dunn/Getty
The tag comes with a one-year offer that is the average of the top-five salaried running backs from last season. The sizable financial commitment raises questions about the future of LaDainian Tomlinson, who in 2004 signed a six-year deal that made him the highest paid running back in the NFL.

Tomlinson is coming off an injury-riddled season in which he set career-lows in attempts (292) and rushing yards (1,110). However, he preceded that down year by winning back-to-back league rushing titles.

"This does not affect our ability to negotiate a new contract with LT," said Smith of Sproles' franchise designation. "We're hopeful of getting a new deal done with [LT]."

The Chargers will keep working on a new deal for Sproles, as well. Even though the team now controls his movement this offseason, San Diego would like to lock him up with a long-term deal that is more cap friendly.

Sproles finished last season with 61 carries for 330 yards (5.4 ypc) and a touchdown; 29 receptions for 342 yards (11.8 avg) and five TDs; 53 kickoff returns for 1,376 yards (26.0 avg) and a score; and 22 punt returns for 249 yards (11.3 avg).

During the playoffs, he totaled 328 all-purpose yards in an overtime win against the Indianapolis Colts, the third-highest total in postseason history.

"Darren has been a valuable contributor to our team, both on offense and special teams," Smith said. "He is a young and improving player. We expect we'll utilize his many talents as we have in the past and he'll be a valuable asset in the coming season."

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