They have lost some players after declining to bring them back. Chief among that bunch is right guard Mike Goff, defensive end Igor Olshansky, linebacker Marques Harris and backup center Jeremy Newberry.
The team rather sift through the second-tier free agents, as well as the players cut loose after some of the big-name guys sign.
"There's a second level of players to evaluate," Smith said. "When people get signed, people come free. We anticipate what players might become available based on movement."
LB Kevin Burnett
"Jermaine is a talented, physical veteran and were excited to have an opportunity to get to know him better," Smith said. "He's played a role in some very good defenses."
But the Chargers won't roll over for anyone looking for a big payday; neither player was signed. The Chargers' approach is to supplement the roster, not overhaul it, when it comes to free agency.
"We're always looking and observing in free agency, but we're not early players," Smith said.
But the Chargers do have holes to fill. They took care of one of them when signing Kynan Forney to a two-year deal.
Forney didn't take a snap for the Chargers last year inactive for 16 games. But he is a nine-year veteran who started 88 games for the Falcons in seven seasons. With Goff not being retained, Forney could have a shot at Goff's old starting spot.
What the Chargers do at defensive end - and tackle - is worth monitoring.
With Olshansky gone, the team could turn to backups Ryon Bingham or Jacques Cesaire. But Bingham has seen most of his action inside, while spelling Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams.
Williams is entering his 12th season and it figures he will need more, not less, rest moving forward. That might mean Bingham will be required even more inside, or that the team will need to bring someone in to give Williams a blow.
Cesaire is a fine player in situations, but he's better suited as a pass rusher than a run-stopper on the end in a 3-4 alignment.
So while most of the attention is on what LaDainian Tomlinson will do - come back, be traded or be released - the Chargers need to address both lines: the left end spot on defense and the right side of the offensive line.
Most that help, likely, will come through the draft.
With the team needing to keep as much cap space open as possible with quarterback Philip Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman and left tackle Marcus McNeill soon seeking deals, it's unlikely Smith will expend much money through free agency.
LOOKING AHEAD: If the Chargers do decide not to bring back Tomlinson, it's possible they would fill that need through the draft or free agency. And even if Tomlinson does return to San Diego for his ninth season, the Chargers speculate his time is short to remain a productive back. "In my mind, there are championship-level backs out there," general manager A. J. Smith said. "It's time to seriously take a look at that."