- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Drew Brees will hit free agency Friday with an optimistic diagnosis for recovery from shoulder surgery.
Brees is scheduled to become a free agent at midnight, even as the Chargers are approximately $17 million under the salary cap for 2006.
Coach Marty Schottenheimer has expressed a strong desire to keep Brees, but Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has said the team's concerns over Brees' shoulder surgery have limited the teams' financial commitment.
Dr. James Andrews released an encouraging medical report on Brees' surgically repaired right shoulder that could allow him to participate in a team's mini-camp in May. On Jan. 5, Brees underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his shoulder capsule and a partially torn rotator cuff. Andrews deemed the surgery successful. Andrews was able to correct the damage by arthroscopy as opposed to a more intrusive operation with the surgical knife.
Brees suffered the injury in the Dec. 31 season finale against Denver.
"At this point, he is eight plus weeks post-op and is ahead of schedule relative to his healing process and recovery," Andrews said. "He has divided his time here in Birmingham, Ala., working under our shoulder rehab specialist Kevin Wilk along with rehabbing in San Diego."
Andrews said Brees' strength is coming along at a rapid rate and he expects a full recovery for the start of the 2006 season.
"Our plan is to start him on an interval football throwing program at the four month interval, which will allow him to participate in some drills during an anticipated May mini-camp," Andrews said.
The Chargers declined to place the franchise or transition tag on Brees last week, which would have guaranteed him almost $10 million for the season.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. ESPN's Chris Mortensen contributed to this report.