NFL Nation: Luis Castillo

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Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The San Diego defensive line has been kind of flat in recent years.

It lost a lot of talent and it hasn’t been a difference-making unit in the Chargers’ 3-4 set.

I think that is changing. There are some interesting young players on this unit that will help improve this group.

It starts with 2011 first-round pick Corey Liuget. The end has progressed and the Chargers are expected to unleash him. Young nose tackle Cam Thomas is an underrated player who is solid. Fellow young player Vaughn Martin is coming into his own and he is a strong rotational player.

Add players like veterans Antonio Garay, Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire and rookie Kendall Reyes (who has big-time potential) and this unit has plenty of talent to be a difference-maker right now.

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 7, 2012
3/07/12
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Denver Broncos

Key free agents: K Matt Prater (franchised), DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brady Quinn, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, P Britton Colquitt (restricted).

Where they stand: The Broncos will have plenty of salary-cap room. For a team that went from 4-12 with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to winning the AFC West and a playoff game in John Fox’s first season as coach, the Broncos are in position to improve through free agency. With Prater franchised, the team’s only priority unrestricted free agent is Bunkley.

What to expect: Don’t expect a huge spending spree. The Broncos are cash conscious and I think the franchise is still recovering from some undisciplined spending during the Mike Shanahan era that ended in 2008. We will see the Broncos try to add several pieces at lower prices. Denver could address needs at safety, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and quarterback. Keep an eye on players such as Washington safety LaRon Landry, Seattle tight end John Carlson, quarterbacks Chad Henne (Miami), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) or Josh Johnson (Tampa), running backs Michael Bush (Oakland) and Mike Tolbert (San Diego), and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene Cincinnati.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key free agents: WR Dwayne Bowe (franchised), CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, LB Jovan Belcher, S Jon McGraw, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Thomas Jones, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Kelly Gregg

Where they stand: The Chiefs are in great shape on cap space even after signing cornerback Stanford Routt and franchising Bowe. They have already done a nice job in free agency with these two moves and have a good, young roster. Kansas City can become a serious playoff contender with the right moves. It is likely Carr will leave in free agency, but the Chiefs should be able to re-sign most of their other free agents if they wish.

What to expect: I’m not sure we will see the Chiefs break the bank for any of the super-hot free agents, but I expect them to do some significant shopping. I think we could see Kansas City look for help at nose tackle, linebacker, safety, tackle, running back and quarterback. Of course, the intrigue could start if the team gets in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. But they could also look at several other quarterbacks, including Orton, Henne, Jason Campbell (Oakland) or even Quinn. They could also be in the mix for Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai, Saints guard Carl Nicks and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), Bush and Tolbert.

Oakland Raiders

Key free agents: S Tyvon Branch (franchised), RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Quentin Groves, C Samson Satele, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, FB Marcel Reece (restricted).

Where they stand: The Raiders are one of the few teams that must get under the salary cap. Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently acknowledged the team has work to do. The Raiders have some contracts that can be easily restructured, but they also may have to cut some players, particularly on defense. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson are among the top candidates.

What to expect: The Raiders likely face some limitations once they get under the cap, but they can add two or three starting-quality players under the right circumstances. Their primary needs are on defense, starting at cornerback and linebacker. The offensive line could be upgraded as well. I think they can be in on the second wave of cornerbacks. A player to watch is New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who previously played for Allen. There are some solid second-tier cornerbacks Oakland could be interested in other than Porter. There will be some good players available on both sides of the ball after the initial wave of free agency for short-term deals. Expect the Raiders to do some bargain picking during that time. I think Oakland will be interested in signing several of its free agents, but I expect Bush and Campbell will leave.

San Diego Chargers

Key free agents: WR Vincent Jackson, C Nick Hardwick, RB Tolbert, DT Antonio Garay, OT Jared Gaither, FB Jacob Hester.

Where they stand: The Chargers will be in decent shape and they are getting even better after cutting Luis Castillo, the retirement of guard Kris Dielman and the expected release of tackle Marcus McNeill. But San Diego still has a lot of work to do. They have the most priority free agents of any team in the division. Signing Jackson, Hardwick, Gaither, Tolbert and Garay will be a challenge.

What to expect: The Chargers will likely stick to their usual plan and concentrate first on their own free agents. But they also have other needs and they will likely spend more in free agency than they have done before under general manager A.J. Smith. I get the sense from some agents that the Chargers may spend wildy in an attempt to win back the fan base’s trust after the unpopular contract extensions for Smith and coach Norv Turner. The pair were brought back even after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. I also get the sense from inside the organization, however, that the Chargers will not act out of desperation. Look for the team to consider pass-rushers, nose tackles, safeties and offensive linemen if Hardwick and Gaither aren’t brought back. A receiver will also become a major need if Jackson goes. The Colts' Reggie Wayne could be an option in that case. A running back such as Cadillac Williams (St. Louis) reportedly will be in the mix if Tolbert walks. Soliai could interest the team as well. Chicago special teams ace Corey Graham may also be a target. If the Chargers want to make a huge splash, they could try to get in on Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams, who is widely considered the best player on the market.

Talking with Chargers GM A.J. Smith

February, 23, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- I had a chance to meet with San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith on Thursday.

In the big picture, Smith said his team must address its defense before as it attempts another playoff run. However, Smith’s most pressing issue is the offensive line. Smith said the line “is the area that is causing [him] to lose sleep.”

However, Smith may rest easy soon enough. There may be more clarity on the group in the near future. Center Nick Hardwick is a free agent and has said he wants to return. Smith wants him back, but a deal has to be completed.

Guard Kris Dielman is coming off a concussion that ended his 2011 season prematurely. He has even considered retiring. But he is expected to play, even though a final decision hasn’t been made.

The team is expected to release left tackle Marcus McNeill, who is dealing with a possible career-ending neck injury. He is due a bonus early next month. Jared Gaither took over for McNeill last season and did well. The team hopes to re-sign him in free agency but, like Hardwick, there are no guarantees.

“We don’t know how it will play out on the line,” Smith said. “A lot of things can happen. There are things we want to happen, but that doesn’t mean they will happen. But we will know soon enough.”

What Smith wants to see is improvement on defense. Smith said he is excited about new defensive coordinator John Pagano, who was a longtime assistant coach in San Diego. The Chargers defense sagged in its one year under former coordinator Greg Manusky, who was fired in January.

Smith said the key to improving the defense is becoming a better unit on third down. The team was last in the NFL in getting off the field on third down in 2011. “That is the first thing we have to figure out,” Smith said.

Smith said he is excited about several players, including young defensive linemen Corey Liuget, Vaughn Martin and Cam Thomas. The Chargers, who may cut Luis Castillo, will add to the line, but they are expecting big things from the unit under Pagano’s guidance.

Smith wouldn’t specifically address getting pass-rushers in free agency, but he did say the team needs more of them. If the Chargers do look at pass-rushers on the open market, the Colts’ Robert Mathis and the Lions’ Cliff Avril (if he isn’t given the franchise tag) could be intriguing options.

Smith said he wants to keep receiver Vincent Jackson, but wouldn’t say whether he thinks Jackson will stay. I think the team’s best scenario is to let Jackson explore his options in free agency and then try to sign him. That was the tact the team used with safety Eric Weddle last year. Unless other events unfold unexpectedly, don’t expect the Chargers to give Jackson the franchise tag.

Smith said he was pleased to see quarterback Philip Rivers finish the season strong and that he's not concerned about Rivers experiencing early-season struggles again like he did last year.

“He was pressing” Smith said. “He knows it. That happens, but Philip is fine.”

San Diego inactives

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
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SAN DIEGO –- The only new injury news for San Diego on Thursday is that safety Steve Gregory was hurt this week in practice and he is inactive. He will be replaced by Paul Oliver against Oakland.

Below are the Chargers’ inactives:

DL Luis Castillo

OG Kris Dielman

WR Malcom Floyd

LB Darryl Gamble

S Steve Gregory

LB Shaun Phillips

WR Bryan Walters

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 4, 2011
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With two teams on bye this week and a third not playing until Monday night, our Friday injury report is a bit light.

All but two Green Bay Packers will be available for Sunday's game at the San Diego Chargers, and those two players -- left tackle Chad Clifton and defensive end Mike Neal -- are no surprises. The Chargers declared defensive lineman Luis Castillo (tibia) and guard Kris Dielman (concussion) out of the game, and linebacker Shaun Phillips (foot) is doubtful.

Neither wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hip) nor running back Ryan Mathews practiced this week for the Chargers. Both are listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, every Chicago Bears player had full participation in practice Thursday, except offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (knee), who wasn't expected to play Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles anyway. The Bears have one more day before issuing the game status for their roster, but it doesn't appear there will be any other issues.

Bob Sanders' body betrays him again

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
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You have to think Bob Sanders' NFL career is over.

[+] EnlargeBob Sanders
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireBob Sanders' NFL career may be over after being put on the injured reserve.
After playing just nine games total in the past three years for the Indianapolis Colts, Sanders' season with the San Diego Chargers ended after two games. Sanders, who missed Sunday’s game against Kansas City, was put on the injured reserve Wednesday. That means four straight seasons have ended on the injured reserve for the hard-hitting, playmaking safety. He has played just 11 games since the 2007 season when he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

San Diego general manger A.J. Smith made it clear in a statement that the Sanders’ experiment is over in San Diego.

“All we wished for Bob was good health and hoped to turn him loose to do his thing, which was being one great, physical, highly-competitive player,” Smith said. “It didn’t work out for him or us, and we wish him the very best. He was with us a very short time, but made a positive impact with our team in many ways, and I’ll always appreciate that.”

The Chargers knew they were taking a chance on Sanders and the deal was very team friendly. But they liked Sanders and they wanted him to be a big part of the defense. They expected him and fellow safety Eric Weddle to create a special tandem.

When I spoke to Smith about Sanders, Smith said all Sanders needed was “health.” He didn’t get it. I met Sanders during the summer and he is easy to root for. He said he was due for some good health and he was thrilled to get the chance in San Diego. When healthy this summer, Sanders was fast and he looked good.

But, in the end, his body betrayed him again.

The Chargers, who are getting used to injuries, will use Steve Gregory with Weddle along with some other young players. Gregory is serviceable, but a healthy Sanders could have been special.

Meanwhile, the Chargers brought in another veteran defender. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris replaces Sanders on the roster.

Harris was cut both by Chicago and Indianapolis this year. The Chargers want a veteran to fill the gap in the rotation for the next few weeks. Luis Castillo will be out for several weeks with a broken leg and Jacques Cesaire will be out for several weeks with a knee injury. Rookie defensive wend Corey Liuget missed last week’s game with an ankle injury. He was practicing some Wednesday. Still, it is not known if he can play against the Dolphins. The Chargers will take anything Harris can give him at this point.
The San Diego Chargers got the news they expected about kicker Nate Kaeding since Sunday night.

The reliable placekicker is out for the year after he suffered a torn ACL on the opening play of the 2011 season, a kickoff that Minnesota’s Percy Harvin took back 103 yards for a touchdown in an eventual 24-17 San Diego win.

There were strong indications Sunday that Kaeding -- who was ably replaced by punter Mike Scifres -- would be out for the year. The Chargers will work out kickers Tuesday and make a quick decision.

San Diego will miss Kaeding. He is a consummate pro and he is very accurate. His injury has to be pegged on the Chargers’ special teams, which ruined last season.

While the unit looked good in the preseason and it improved during Sunday’s game, there is no way Kaeding should have to try to make a tackle. Now, he’s out for the season and it will be up to his replacement to keep up his end of the unit.

The Chargers did get better news on defensive end Luis Castillo. He has a broken leg, but he could be back later in the season. The San Diego Union Tribune reports the team will likely bring back Ogemdi Nwagbuo to take Castillo’s place. Nwagbuo is a solid player who was one of the team’s toughest cuts.

The team also got good news on the knee injury suffered by running back Mike Tolbert, who scored all three of San Diego’s touchdowns Sunday. Tolbert is expected to be fine.

San Diego Chargers suffer key injuries

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
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SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers' 24-17 comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings didn’t come without a cost.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports kicker Nate Kaeding -- who was hurt on a Percy Harvin touchdown return on the opening kickoff -- may have a torn ACL.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports defensive end Luis Castillo has a broken tibia. He will be out a significant amount of time, if not for the season.

Running back Mike Tolbert, who scored all three of San Diego’s touchdowns Sunday, has a knee injury. But it isn’t considered serious.

The Kaeding and Castillo injuries are of concern for the Chargers. The Chargers will need to sign a kicker and Jacques Cesaire and Vaughn Martin will play more for the Chargers now.

Draft Watch: AFC East

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
12:00
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills' top pick is No. 3 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: DT Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers)

2009: DE Tyson Jackson (Chiefs)

2008: QB Matt Ryan (Falcons)

2007: T Joe Thomas (Browns)

2006: QB Vince Young (Titans)

2005: WR Braylon Edwards (Browns)

2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)

ANALYSIS: Some sexy picks have been made in this spot. None of the players have been out-and-out busts, although character concerns have overshadowed a couple. Only McCoy and Jackson haven't been selected for at least one Pro Bowl. Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, arguably the best in the business. Edwards can be a dangerous playmaker when not dropping passes, which he didn't do last year. Ryan is an emerging star. Young has been a lightning rod, but he did win rookie of the year and has gone to a pair of Pro Bowls. Thomas is a star blocker with four Pro Bowls on his résumé already.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins' top pick is No. 15 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)

2009: LB Brian Cushing (Texans)

2008: G Branden Albert (Chiefs)

2007: LB Lawrence Timmons (Steelers)

2006: CB Tye Hill (Rams)

2005: LB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)

2004: WR Michael Clayton (Buccaneers)

ANALYSIS: This is a region of the first round where picks can break either way. There have been solid players drafted here, but no superstars. Cushing was a rookie of the year, but his career has been tainted by performance-enhancing drug usage. Clayton made an immediate impact with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but hasn't caught more than 38 passes since. Johnson has been a solid linebacker for Kansas City, while Timmons has been an influential member of Pittsburgh's defense the past two seasons. Hill has been the biggest disappointment. He has been with four teams, starting 25 games.

New England Patriots

The Patriots' first-round picks are Nos. 17 and 28 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in those spots, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: G Mike Iupati (49ers) and DE Jared Odrick (Dolphins)

2009: QB Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) and G Eric Wood (Bills)

2008: T Gosder Cherilus (Lions) and DE Lawrence Jackson (Seahawks)

2007: DE Jarvis Moss (Broncos) and T Joe Staley (49ers)

2006: LB Chad Greenway (Vikings) and TE Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars)

2005: LB David Pollack (Bengals) and DE Luis Castillo (Chargers)

2004: LB D.J. Williams (Broncos) and CB Chris Gamble (Panthers)

ANALYSIS: Results have been mixed with these slots, but the 28th pick actually has found more starters than the 17th in recent years. Freeman showed signs of developing into a future star last year, and Cherilus has started 40 of his 43 games at right tackle. Williams and Greenway have been regular starters. But Moss and Pollock didn't work out. In the 28th slot, Odrick is the only one who hasn't been a regular starter. Injuries detonated his rookie season.

New York Jets

The Jets' top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:

2010: RB Jahvid Best (Lions)

2009: WR Kenny Britt (Titans)

2008: TE Dustin Keller (Jets)

2007: WR Craig Davis (Chargers)

2006: RB Joseph Addai (Colts)

2005: TE Heath Miller (Steelers)

2004: RB Kevin Jones (Lions)

ANALYSIS: What strikes me is that all seven selections not only are offensive players, but also ball handlers. Perhaps teams in the back of the draft feel they can gamble a little bit and try to hit big on a skill position. Whatever the reasoning, it seems to have worked. This has been a successful spot. Jones and Addai rushed for 1,000 yards as rookies. Best appears to be the Lions' running back of the future. Miller and Addai have gone to Pro Bowls. Britt was the Titans' leading receiver last year. Keller is one of the NFL's better tight ends.

Raiders even race with Chargers

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
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Darren McFaddenKirby Lee/US PresswireDarren McFadden had 97 yards on 19 carries as the Raiders trampled the Chargers.
SAN DIEGO –- The Oakland Raiders apparently wanted company on the dreaded “win out or go home” road to the NFL playoffs.

So the Raiders pushed the San Diego Chargers around the field all day, ensuring their stressful and unlikely journey to the playoffs won’t be a solo ride. After gladly assuming the role of the NFL’s hottest and most dangerous team heading into their favorite month of the year, the Chargers saw their long reign atop the AFC West go on life support after a 28-13 loss to the Raiders.

Things got so bad in San Diego on Sunday that late in the game, when only jubilant Raiders fan remained in the stadium, San Diego’s cheerleading squad was loudly booed during its final number of a forgettable day for the home team. It’s not supposed to be this way for San Diego in December and it’s certainly not the way the previously streaking Chargers planned on opening a stretch of three home games in 11 days.

Sunday’s upset in San Diego was cause for a big celebration in Kansas City hours after the Chiefs improved to 8-4 with a 10-6 win over Denver. Oakland and San Diego are now both 6-6 and trail the Chiefs by two games with four games remaining. Oakland owns the tiebreaker over San Diego based on its season sweep. The Raiders and Chargers are both two games behind in the AFC wild-card race.

If Kansas City wins in San Diego next Sunday, it will eliminate San Diego -- which has won four straight division crowns -- from the AFC West title race. In that scenario, Kansas City would be 9-4 and San Diego would be 6-7. The Chiefs would have a three-game lead with three games to go and they would hold the tiebreaker over San Diego based on a season sweep. Oakland can’t be eliminated next week when it plays at Jacksonville, but the Raiders know they are on thin ice and have to continue to win if they want to advance to the postseason for the first time in eight years. At 3-9, Denver is the only AFC West team eliminated from playoff contention.

“We’ve been in playoff mode for three weeks now,” Oakland fullback Marcel Reece said. “The first two weeks didn’t go well, but we got back to playing Raider football and if we keep that up, we’ll be fine. We know we can play with anybody, but it was nice to get back to doing it today.”

The Chargers were clearly shocked by Sunday’s developments. Well after the game, several pockets of players huddled in the locker room discussing what went wrong on the field.

“This is not where we expected to be,” San Diego defensive lineman Luis Castillo said.

This was San Diego’s first December loss since the Philip Rivers era started in 2006. San Diego entered this month winners of four straight games, including a 22-point win at Indianapolis last week. But the Chargers were run over by a resurgent Oakland ground game, which took over after the Raiders jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter via another San Diego special teams miscue and a Rivers interception.

While keeping its playoff hopes alive, Oakland also reached a major milestone in its journey from the depths of the NFL. The Raiders have won six games for the first time since 2002. The Raiders set an NFL record for futility by losing at least 11 games in seven straight seasons.

“It means we’re improving,” Oakland defensive lineman Tommy Kelly said. “I just want to see it carry over next week.”

The following are some key aspects of the game:

Raiders run through San Diego: If the Raiders can run the ball effectively, they usually win. If they can’t move the ball on the ground, they don’t have much of a chance to win.

“Yes,” Oakland guard Cooper Carlisle said, “that’s the truth in the simplest terms.”

In losing to the Steelers and the Dolphins by a combined 48 points the previous two weeks, the Raiders ran for a total of 77 yards. Sunday, against the top-ranked defense in the NFL, Oakland ran for 251 yards on 52 carries. The Raiders fed San Diego a healthy dose of both Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.

McFadden had 97 yards on 19 carries and Bush added 95 yards on 23 carries. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Raiders sliced through San Diego up the middle, which has been their calling card when the ground game works this season. Oakland had 137 yards on 30 rushing attempts up the middle Sunday. In October, Oakland had 69 rushing yards up the middle against San Diego, which was a season high for the Chargers’ defense this season.

Oakland’s ground success kept the pressure off quarterback Jason Campbell and allowed him to pick his spots, which is when he is at his best. Campbell completed 10 of 16 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. Oakland will take a 251-117 rush-pass yardage ratio any time.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner
AP Photo/Denis PoroyNorv Turner and Philip Rivers did not have an answer for Oakland's defense on Sunday.
Oakland made Rivers uncomfortable: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers completed 23 of 39 passes for 280 yards. But he was never comfortable. The Raiders were always putting heat on him. Rivers was sacked four times.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers' passer rating against five or more pass-rushers Sunday was 19.9. In the first 11 games of the season under the same pressure, Rivers’ passer rating was 94.2

Because it fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter, San Diego ran only eight times for 21 yards. Rookie Ryan Mathews, even though he was healthy for the first time in a month, did not have a carry.

McClain hit legal: Referee John Parry said the helmet-to-helmet hit Oakland rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain registered on San Diego running back Darren Sproles was legal because Sproles was not defenseless. After spending several moments on the grass, Sproles left the game and he did not return because of a concussion.

The San Diego crowd was incensed McClain wasn’t penalized. Parry’s explanation probably means McClain will not be fined. However, the league has been aggressively fining defenders who lead with their helmet because of concussion concerns.

When I talked to San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith earlier Wednesday, he gave no indication that he was about to make Antonio Gates the highest paid tight end in the NFL.

Antonio Gates
Icon SMIAntonio Gates received a five-year extension on Wednesday.
The talk was dominated by the expected long holdouts by Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill.

However, Smith did leave some hints.

“I have a list of priorities,” Smith said. “I’m not going to say what the priority is, but people can speculate.”

There’s no further speculation needed. It's crystal clear that Gates was the priority. ESPN.com is reporting Gates signed a five-year contract extension. The new deal is worth an average of $7.235 million per season, with $20.4 million in guarantees.

The Chargers and Gates have been expected to finalize a deal for the past two years. Smith has long had a reputation of taking care of his own players. The past two summers, he gave contract extensions to defensive lineman Luis Castillo and quarterback Philip Rivers.

However, Smith has been in the news lately for the deals he hasn’t been making. Both Jackson and McNeill are restricted free agents, who did not sign their tenders. They are both expected to hold out for the first 10 games of the season.

Wednesday, Smith said the Chargers were choosing to wait out the uncertainty of the CBA before giving long-term deals. But he did mention the priority list. It is clear Gates was the first choice.

Perhaps McNeill and Jackson are not on the list. Still, Smith did say this earlier Wednesday.

“Everything would be beautiful if I gave every player who wants a new deal a new, nice, big contract,” Smith said.”Everybody would be happy and everybody would say nice things about me. But we know that wouldn’t work. (Teams) just can’t operate that way.”

So what does Gates’ deal mean to Jackson’s and McNeill’s future?

Nothing for the short term. But I do think Gates’ extension was a message to both McNeill and Jackson. Gates never complained about his contract and he never threatened to hold out.

The timing of this deal may be Smith’s subtle way of showing both Jackson and McNeill that everyone will get their turn, but it is easier to get a deal if you play along with the program.

Gates did and he got paid. McNeill and Jackson are apparent planning to stay away and they aren’t real close to getting a new pay day.

Do the math.

Best in the AFC West

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
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Rivers/Asomugha/Dumervil US PresswirePhilip Rivers, Nnamdi Asomugha and Elvis Dumervil all rank among the best at their position.
Now that most of the signing, releasing and trading and all of the drafting is complete in the AFC West, we now have a better feel for the talent in the division.

Once again, there has been major change. Let's catch up with an early projection for our preseason all-AFC West team.

We have a few ground rules: Rookies are eligible. We’re using a 3-4 defense because three teams in the division use the 3-4 as its base and Oakland will use the 3-4 more this year. We took some liberties at some positions. For example, we aren’t taking a fullback but we are using the two best running backs.

Without further ado, here is our all-AFC West team as it stands now:

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Philip Rivers, San Diego

Why: It wasn’t even close. Rivers is a premier player in the NFL. He’s the best player in the division, and, at 28, is getting better.

Running backs

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

Thomas Jones, Kansas City

[+] EnlargeThomas Jones
Don McPeak/US PresswireThomas Jones rushed for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jets last season.
Why: The Chiefs have the two best running backs in the division. It’s a strong division for running backs, but the Chiefs have something special. This is the strength of the team. Charles is a third-year game-breaker and Jones, who will be 32 this summer, is a savvy veteran who ran for more than 1,400 yards last season. This is a powerful combination.

Receivers

Vincent Jackson, San Diego

Malcom Floyd, San Diego

Why: With Brandon Marshall traded to Miami, Jackson is by far the best receiver in the division. He is big and fast and has great hands. He's a rising star. I had a difficult time deciding on my second receiver. The division has several intriguing receivers including Dwayne Bowe, Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Eddie Royal. But all of these other players are big question marks heading into the season. Floyd seems like the safest bet.

Tight end

Antonio Gates, San Diego

Why: This was another easy one. Gates is at the top of his game. He is coming off a season in which he had 79 catches and a career-high 1,157 yards. Gates turns 30 next month, but he is one of the best tight ends in the league.

Left tackle

Ryan Clady, Denver

Why: Clady is one of the best left tackles in the NFL as he enters his third season. Of course, it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from a partially torn patella tendon injury that required surgery. He was injured while playing basketball. The Broncos hope Clady can return by the start of the season.

Left guard

Kris Dielman, San Diego

Why: A strong, steady force. A quiet player who is one of the best in the business.

Center

Nick Hardwick, San Diego

Why: Hardwick had battled injuries, but he remains at the top of his game. He needs to stay healthy. The Chargers’ offense misses him when he is out. He is a stout anchor.

Right guard

Chris Kuper, Denver

Why: Kuper is an underrated player. He is a mauler who will help make Denver’s transition from a zone-blocking scheme to a more traditional unit easier.

Right tackle

Ryan Harris, Denver

Why: The Broncos’ offense went south when Harris suffered a toe injury last year. He’s big and athletic. He and Clady make great bookend tackles.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

Richard Seymour, Oakland

Why: Seymour can still be a top player. He is versatile and plays with a mean streak. When he’s on, he’s a terror.

Nose tackle

Jamal Williams, Denver

Why: This was a tough one, because there are few established nose tackles in the division. There is talk that Glenn Dorsey may play the position in Kansas City, but we’ll have to see how that works. Although Williams is declining and he missed all but one game last season, the first-year Bronco and former Charger All-Pro has to be considered the best nose tackle in the division at this point

Defensive end

Luis Castillo, San Diego

Why: Castillo is a good, steady player. He doesn’t get a lot of numbers. But he is a solid player.

Outside linebacker

Elvis Dumervil, Denver

Why: Dumervil is just scratching the surface of his ability. He led the NFL with 17 sacks last season. He’s a star.

Shawne Merriman, San Diego

Why: People get on Merriman because his sack numbers have dropped. But he is always around the play. Expect him to have a strong year in 2010 as he continues to improve from a 2008 knee injury.

Inside linebacker

D.J. Williams, Denver

Why: Williams is a very good player. He is smart and athletic. He makes a defense better.

Rolando McClain, Oakland

Why: I’m taking a shot here. I could go with San Diego’s Stephen Cooper or even young, exciting Charger Brandon Siler. But I just have a feeling McClain is going to be an instant star. He has all the intangibles. He had Oakland’s playbook sent to him the morning after he was drafted. I think he is going to be special.

Cornerback

Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland

Why: Best in the biz. Period.

Champ Bailey, Denver

Why: Hall of Famer. Period.

Safety

Brian Dawkins, Denver

Why: I was impressed with how well Dawkins played last year, his first in the division. Dawkins may be 36, but he is still a big-league playmaker.

Eric Berry, Kansas City

Why: Like McClain, I’m taking a flier here. But I expect Berry, the No.5 draft pick in the draft, to make an instant impact. The Chiefs are going to unleash him right away.

Special teams:

Punter

Shane Lechler, Oakland

Why: This was a tough call. San Diego’s Mike Scifres is an unbelievable punter just like Lechler. But a slight edge goes to Lechler because he is just so powerful.

Kicker

Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland

Why: Another tough, tough call. I gave Janikowski a slight edge over San Diego’s Nate Kaeding. Truthfully, I gave Janikowski the edge because Kaeding struggled in his last game. Janikowski seems to be getting better.

Returner

Darren Sproles, San Diego

Why: Not a tough call at all. Sproles is magic in the open field. He can return a kick for a touchdown any time he touches the ball.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
PM ET
» NFC History: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Five-year history in that spot.

Denver Broncos: There have been some stars taken in the No. 11 spot recently. In 2007, San Francisco took linebacker Patrick Willis. He has become one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He is a dominant middle linebacker. In 2006, Denver traded up to take quarterback Jay Cutler. He was a Pro Bowl quarterback in Denver before he was sent to Chicago last year. In 2005, Dallas took pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware. He is a key to Dallas’ defense. The past two players taken in the spot have to prove they belong. Buffalo took defensive end Aaron Maybin in 2009 and cornerback Leodis McKelvin in 2008. Maybin was slowed by a long holdout. Still, he has solid pass-rushing potential. McKelvin has some nice potential but he has been hampered by injuries.

Kansas City Chiefs: The No. 5 overall pick hasn’t been a sure-thing selection spot. In 2009, the Jets took quarterback Mark Sanchez. He has the makings of being an outstanding quarterback. He led the Jets to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie. However, the results at this spot have been uneven overall. Kansas City took defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey in 2008. Dorsey was considered perhaps the best player available in the draft. He has been slow to adjust to the NFL game and 3-4 defense the Chiefs adopted in his second NFL season. In 2007, Arizona took tackle Levi Brown. He has developed into a nice starting tackle. Still, he may have been taken too high. In 2006, Green Bay took linebacker A.J. Hawk, who has had his ups and downs. He’s been good, but not great. In 2005, Tampa Bay took running back Cadillac Williams. He has been a productive player when healthy. But injuries have hampered him.

Oakland Raiders: There hasn’t been an overwhelming amount of production out of the No. 8 spot the past five years. Jacksonville has been in this spot the past two years. It took left tackle Eugene Monroe last year and defensive end Derrick Harvey in 2008. Monroe looks like he could be a solid pick in an era where there are several good left tackles entering the league. Harvey had a long holdout and he has been hurt. He has 5.5 sacks in two full seasons. He needs to pick it up. In 2007, Atlanta took defensive end Jamaal Anderson. He looks like he may be a big bust. He has 2.5 sacks in 44 games. He started 16 games last season and did not have a sack. In 2006, the Bills took safety Donte Whitner. He has been a solid player. Arizona took safety Antrel Rolle in 2005. He was just cut by the Cardinals in a salary dump and signed by the Giants. He has been a solid playmaker.

San Diego Chargers: There has been some good production at the No. 28 spot for being so low in the first round. In 2009, Buffalo took center Eric Wood. He had a terrific start to his career, but suffered a broken leg in November and will need to prove he can come back from it. In 2008, Seattle took defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who has had 6.5 sacks in two seasons. He could still be solid, but he was an awful pick at No. 28. San Francisco scored big in 2007 with left tackle Joe Staley. He was a very good value pick. In 2006, Jacksonville took tight end Marcedes Lewis. He has 123 catches in four NFL seasons and he has seven career touchdowns catches. He isn’t dominant, but he has been far from a bust. The Chargers took defensive end Luis Castillo in this spot five years ago. He has become an important part of the Chargers’ defense, and the team gave him a lucrative deal in 2008 to keep him.
The release of defensive tackle Jamal Williams after 12 seasons with the team headlines the list of offseason moves the Chargers made Thursday.

Williams’ release isn’t totally shocking. He was due a roster bonus Friday and is coming off a triceps surgery that kept him out of all but one game last season. Williams will be 34 next month and has been wearing down in recent seasons.

Williams’ situation is not unlike the recent release of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Williams was a fan favorite and had a great career in San Diego, but he could no longer be counted on. Williams, 6-foot-3, 348 pounds, was a superstar in his prime. He anchored the San Diego defense and clogged the interior of the defensive line.

San Diego, though, will have to act quickly to replace Williams. San Diego missed Williams’ run-stuffing ability all season. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Chargers look at nose tackle with the No. 28 overall pick in the draft. Alabama’s Terrence Cody could be targeted as a replacement for Williams.

San Diego announced free agent special teams ace Kassim Osgood “definitely” will not be returning. Osgood wants a chance to play receiver and he should get that chance in free agency. San Diego was never interested in letting Osgood play on offense.

It also released backup running back Michael Bennett. Even though San Diego put the high tender on change-of-pace back Darren Sproles, still expect it to try to pick up at least two running backs this offseason.

San Diego agreed to a two-year deal with defensive tackle Antonio Garay. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent.

The Chargers also announced that several players have had or will soon have surgeries to address 2009 health issues. They said every player will be ready for training camp in late July. Here is the team’s list of players who needed surgery:

Surgery update Injury Rehab Time (from date of surgery)

LB Kevin Burnett Neck 3-5 months

DE Luis Castillo Shoulder complete

DE Jacques Cesaire Elbow, Knee complete

C Nick Hardwick Shoulder complete

DE Vaughn Martin Ankle 12 weeks

G Scott Mruczkowski Elbow 2-4 weeks

WR Legedu Naanee Foot 12 weeks

P Mike Scifres Bilateral hernia 6-12 weeks

S C.J. Spillman Shoulder 3-4 months

G Louis Vasquez Knee 6-8 weeks

Pregame notes from Dallas

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
3:28
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas – The world doesn’t need me to explain the spectacle that is the new Cowboys Stadium, the testimonials are in. But let me just add this: wow. This joint is impressive.

It was fun to see San Diego coach Norv Turner catch up with friends from Dallas on the sideline. Turner had a lot of success as the offensive coordinator of the great Cowboys teams of the 1990s. He is clearly beloved here.

San Diego safety Eric Weddle is inactive for the second straight game with a knee injury. He is being replaced by Steve Gregory.

San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman is active. He missed last week’s game with a foot issue.

San Diego defensive end Luis Castillo is active and will play. He missed the past two games with a calf injury.

Dallas is snapping out of a cold front and it is a very pleasant day Sunday.

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