A move that U-T San Diego columnist Kevin Acee believed would happen when he published an article just a few weeks prior:
At present, the Chargers have just $6.5 million in cap space, but they'll loosen up at least that much more by freeing themselves of just a few contracts.
It is, for instance, difficult to imagine defensive lineman Antonio Garay or linebacker Takeo Spikes being brought back at their present salaries.
Always the class act that he, Spikes expressed his gratitude to the team on his Twitter page:
Thank you to the @chargers, Spanos family & fans for the opportunity to represent the organization. I look forward to this upcoming season— Takeo Spikes (@TakeoSpikes51) March 7, 2013
As you may have noticed, Spikes also conceded the fact that he'll be playing a 16th season elsewhere. For that team that signs the 36-year-old, they should be pleased to know they'll be getting a tackling machine and an inspiring leader—something the Chargers will miss on defense next season.
With Spikes' release, San Diego's linebacker unit is down to three veterans—two of which are unrestricted free agents next season.
Shaun Phillips and Demorrio Williams, both nine-year players, are set to enter free agency, leaving 11-year man Jarret Johnson as the only veteran linebacker guaranteed to be back next season.
After Johnson, the next experienced linebacker is Antwan Barnes (seven seasons), who coincidentally is also an unrestricted free agent next season.
That leaves the rest of the group consisting of players with no more than three years of playing experience, meaning someone will have to step up or the team will be forced to bring in help.
In San Diego's 3-4 defensive scheme, third-year stud Donald Butler is slated to fill one of the two inside linebacker spots, leaving Spikes' old slot wide open.
Looking at the current roster, excluding free agents of course, I see only a couple possibilities to fill the role. Jonas Mouton and Bront Bird are listed as the only alternates on the depth chart, but neither have had nowhere near enough game experience.
The most interesting of the two possible replacements is Mouton, who is a former second-round pick of the A.J. Smith era. The 24-year-old has had to be extremely patient for his opportunity to play as he dealt with injuries ever since he came into the league.
Smith may not have had much luck running the team, but there was never a doubt that he couldn't evaluate talent. Mouton should be a top consideration for the open spot, but it's all speculation at this point.
Essentially, Spikes' release means the Chargers are officially in the market for an inside linebacker—either in the draft or in free agency.
The veteran's release freed up $3 million in cap space, but that money will likely go to some of San Diego's top free agents like Louis Vasquez and Antoine Cason, so bringing in a quality experienced inside linebacker might be out of the question.
Spike's release is just one of a few rumored cuts expected to occur this offseason to help free up cap space. Antonio Garay is another veteran name that's been tossed around:
Sounds like the #Chargers are heading toward releasing veteran DT Antonio Garay, per source. Due $3.5M in 2013. DE for a 3-4 team— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 28, 2013
Looking ahead to the draft and the beginning of free agency, it seems the Chargers have added inside linebacker to their list of needs. Now it's simply a matter of finding who.
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