Chargers' Neal, McCree, Olivea enter free-agent market
SAN DIEGO -- All-Pro fullback Lorenzo Neal was released Thursday by the San Diego Chargers, who also parted with safety Marlon McCree and right tackle Shane Olivea in the hours before free agency opened.
General manager A.J. Smith said all three requested their release so they can quickly jump into free agency.
"They want to start somewhere else," Smith said at a news conference. "They want an opportunity, and I understand that."
Olivea had four years left on his contract, while McCree and Neal each had three years remaining.
Even though Neal was a Pro Bowler as well as an All-Pro, his role was expected to diminish in 2008. The Chargers tried to trade the 15-year veteran during the recent NFL Scouting Combine.
McCree is probably best remembered for fumbling a fourth-down interception in the fourth quarter that gave the New England Patriots new life in a playoff win over the top-seeded Chargers after the 2006 season.
Still, it's expected that there will be a demand for his services.
Olivea lost his starting job to Jeromy Clary midway through the season. McCree's release allows Eric Weddle to move into the starting lineup. The Chargers sent Chicago four picks, including this year's third-rounder, to move up 25 spots in the second round of last year's draft to take Weddle.
The Chargers ended a four-game playoff losing streak stretching back to the 1994 Super Bowl, reaching the AFC Championship Game before losing 21-12 at New England.
"This time we did make some noise," Smith said. "We played in three pressure-packed football games, and I believe in the future this is going to serve us well."
Kicker Dave Rayner, a restricted free agent, will not be tendered a contract. He was signed as a kickoff specialist after Nate Kaeding fractured his plant leg in a win over Denver on Dec. 24. Kaeding continued to kick field goals and PATs.
The Chargers are interested in bringing back their unrestricted free agents, running back Michael Turner, cornerback Drayton Florence and quarterback Billy Volek. But Smith expects Turner and Florence to get big money from other teams.
Turner is expected to get a starting job elsewhere after backing up LaDainian Tomlinson for three seasons. Smith shopped Turner last offseason but didn't get an offer he liked. So he kept the bruising back under a $2.35 million, one-year contract.
The Chargers tried for three years to work out an extension with Florence, who went from starter to nickel back after the emergence of Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie led the NFL with 10 interceptions and was named All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl.
Volek will no doubt get a look on the market simply based on his leading the Chargers on the game-winning drive at Indianapolis in the divisional playoffs on Jan. 13 after Philip Rivers was knocked out with a knee injury. Volek scored on a 1-yard sneak. If Volek leaves, Charlie Whitehurst would move up on the depth chart to back up Rivers.
The Chargers said 11 players have either had surgery or are scheduled to.
The three players scheduled to have surgery in the next few weeks are all Pro Bowlers -- linebacker Shawne Merriman (knee), left tackle Marcus McNeill (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jamal Williams (knees). Williams pulled out of the Pro Bowl because of his injuries and McNeill, originally a second alternate, was added to the roster when two players pulled out.
Smith declined to be specific about the nature of their injuries. He said he expects everyone to be ready by the season opener. Among them are Rivers, who had reconstructive surgery on his right knee on Jan. 23, and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who had surgery Wednesday on his dislocated left big toe.
Merriman said he has a meniscus tear in his left knee, which he injured in an overtime win at Tennessee on Dec. 9.
"I've been trying to set a date to get it done but I'm expecting to get it done in the next few weeks," Merriman said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
McNeill said he hasn't committed yet to having surgery, but if he does, it will just be a cleanup of his right shoulder.
Other players who have had surgery are DT Ryon Bingham (shoulder), Clary (shoulder), RG Mike Goff (knees), FB Andrew Pinnock (knee), LB Brandon Siler (shoulder) and C Cory Withrow (knee). .. The Chargers placed a second-round tender on LB Marques Harris, meaning the Chargers can match any offers the restricted free agent receives. If the Chargers chose not to match an offer, they'd receive that team's second-round draft pick. ... After sending a second-round pick to Miami for receiver Chris Chambers and spending a fourth-rounder on cornerback Paul Oliver in the supplemental draft, San Diego will have only four draft picks in the April draft, plus any compensatory picks they're awarded by the NFL.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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