Deal puts Sproles, LT under contract

Updated: April 29, 2009, 8:58 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Halfback Darren Sproles signed his one-year, $6.621 million franchise tag with the San Diego Chargers on Tuesday, ending any worry about a possible training camp holdout.

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If a franchise player doesn't sign his tender, he has the option of holding out and not having to pay any fine for missing practices. But not signing the tender leaves him vulnerable to having the team pull the tender. By signing the franchise tender, Sproles guaranteed his base salary of $6.621 million.

Sproles had been scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent before the Chargers tagged him as their franchise player. His pay is the average of what the top five running backs in the league are paid.

The speedy little running back and dangerous return specialist made $1.1 million in base pay last year.

Both sides can continue to negotiate a long-term deal until the middle of July.

The 5-foot-6, 181-pound Sproles has never started a game but he's averaged 5.1 yards a carry during his four-year NFL career. He's also a dangerous return specialist.

Halfback LaDainian Tomlinson remains the starter after signing a revised three-year contract this offseason. Now, the team's top two running backs are under contract.

With Tomlinson sidelined by a groin injury, Sproles stepped up and had a huge performance in a 23-17 win against Indianapolis in a wild-card playoff game. He gained 328 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns, including the winning 22-yard scamper in overtime.

He was bottled up the next week, however, as the Chargers were exposed by the more physical Pittsburgh Steelers in a 35-24 loss in the divisional round. Although Sproles had a 63-yard kickoff return and a 62-yard TD catch in the game's final two minutes, he was held to 15 yards on 11 carries.

Also Tuesday, the Chargers added Georgia cornerback Ramarcus Brown to the roster and released cornerback Grant Mason.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer