With the departure of LT this week, I thought I would look at some of the other Charger veteran players who may end up suffering the same fate this offseason.
Stephen Cooper - As was documented in John's article last week, Cooper had a serious drop off in production last season, which is never a good sign when a player is on the wrong side of 30 (Cooper will be 31 next season). While Cooper is one of the few leaders on the Chargers defense (and team as a whole) if he continues to play at the level of play he had in 2009 his leadership qualities may not be enough to justify his spot on defense trying to win a championship.
The two main reasons I think Cooper may be a target for the chopping block is both his contract status (he only has one year left in which he is due to make $2.875 mil) and the emergence of younger players (Siler (24), Dobbins (27) and Burnett (27)) who are more likely to be the future of this defense. If the Chargers believe that any two of those players should start instead of Cooper then it would really not make sense from a player development, economic, and team moral standpoint to keep Cooper on the roster, where he would occupy a spot that would be better spent on a younger player who can help out on special teams and potentially develop into a starter (much like Siler did). In the end I don't see Cooper wearing the blue and gold next season and would expect him to be cut sometime after the draft (assuming the Chargers draft a project type ILB).
Likelihood of being cut: High
Ryon Bingham - Bingham had somewhat of a break out year in 2007 backing up the constantly injured Luis Castillo and continued to play well (as a backup) throughout the 2008 season. Bingham was penciled in as the starting DE opposite of Castillo as training camp began but unfortunately suffered a season ending arm injury during training camp. I have not heard much on the status of Bingham's health (which I'm guessing is a good thing) but with only one year left on his current contract (worth $1.75 mil) and the unlikelihood of him receiving an extension (he will be 30 when his contract expires) I think any kind of setback in his rehabilitation may cause the Chargers to take a second look at his roster spot.
Another challenge Bingham will face is the emergence of other players who stepped up their game Bingham's absence last season (Martin, Johnson, Scott, Nwagbuo) and may have the inside track in the battle for the backup DE and DT spots during training camp. While I think the possibility of Bingham being cut before training camp begins is low, I think the chances of him making the 53 man roster out of training camp is just as low.
Likelihood of being cut: Medium
Jamal Williams - Well the Chargers have already cut one aging superstar this week. Is it possible that they could cut another? It's no secret that Williams is breaking down, the man has been taking on double and triple teams for the past 13 years and the physical toll placed on his body and specifically his knees is adding up. While Williams was the most dominate nose guard in the NFL for the better part of a decade the wear-and-tear on his body over the years has limited his playing time and kept him off the field for almost the entire 2009 season. The Chargers faired ok last season without Williams clogging the middle of the line, but he is a once in a lifetime type player and the Chargers will not be able to find another player with his size, speed, and most importantly his ability to take over the nose of the defense any time soon. Williams only has one year left on his contract (worth $5 mil) and at the age of 34 I don't see the Chargers extending him after this season.
There are really only two reasons I could see the Chargers cutting Williams, if he is still injured and does not project to be ready by the start of the season or if the Chargers feel like with the exit of LT and the uncertainty surrounding Merriman, VJ, Sproles, McNeill and the CBA, they may just want to cut their losses during the 2010 season and develop some of their younger players (Martin, Nwagbuo and any player they may draft) to be ready for a run in 2011. In the end I think Jamal stays a Charger (barring injury) but in a reduced role. I think both Williams (who has openly considered retirement) and the Chargers would be happy with him only playing one or two downs a series and rotating in and out with younger players but still providing a veteran presence.
Likelihood of being cut: Low