LT still with Bolts as free agency-trading nears

SAN DIEGO -- LaDainian Tomlinson remained with the San Diego Chargers in the hours leading up to NFL free agency and the reopening of the trading period.

Beyond that, there were no specifics coming from either the Chargers or Tomlinson's camp about the future of the 2006 NFL MVP.

General manager A.J. Smith said Thursday the team was still working to restructure the star running back's contract in an attempt to lower his base pay for 2009.

"All I can tell you is everything's ongoing," Smith said during his annual news conference before the beginning of free agency. "I've got nothing more to add at this time. But I will add this: We'd love to have him. We hope he returns."

Smith refused to describe the tone of the talks with agent Tom Condon or if there's a time frame in which the team would like to finish a deal with Tomlinson, whose contract runs through 2011.

"I'm just going to let it go for the way it is. Everything is ongoing," Smith said.

Condon didn't return a call seeking comment.

If the two sides can't agree, trading or releasing Tomlinson remain options for the Chargers.

Smith was pressed several times about Tomlinson during his long question-and-answer session.

"I just can't get it through to you I don't want to talk about L.T. anymore," he said testily.

San Diego made it to the playoffs at 8-8, beat Indianapolis in an overtime wild-card game and then was outmuscled by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tomlinson was slowed during the regular season with a toe injury, then hurt his groin in the season finale. He was forced out of the playoff win against the Colts and sat out against the Steelers, the second straight year his postseason was cut short by injury.

While his 1,110 yards were the lowest of his brilliant eight-year career, Tomlinson still finished fourth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL.

Tomlinson is due $6,725,000 in 2009. His salary cap number is $8.8 million, which includes a prorated share of the signing bonus from his 2004 contract.

Last week, the Chargers placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Darren Sproles, virtually assuring the speedy little running back/returner will be back next season.

Sproles stands to make $6.62 million next year, unless the sides agree to a long-term contract.

The L.T. saga has had a few twists and turns.

In late January, Smith said he regretted making comments mocking Tomlinson.

After Tomlinson said on his Web site that he wanted to stay in San Diego, Smith mimicked L.T.'s comments practically word for word.

Before the Chargers' postseason run ended, the GM was angry that the severity of Tomlinson's groin injury was revealed, calling out the player and his agent. Tomlinson, the franchise's most brutally honest employee, confirmed he had a detached tendon in his groin while the team said only that he had a strained groin.

Smith said four unrestricted free agents won't be back: guard Mike Goff, linebacker Marques Harris, center Jeremy Newberry and defensive end Igor Olshansky.

The Chargers also got rid of linebacker Anthony Waters, a third-round draft pick in 2007.

Smith said left tackle Marcus McNeill had major neck surgery three weeks ago.

Smith also made a rare public admission of a shortcoming.

"I'm not very pleased with my own contributions in the last two years, personally," Smith said. "I critique myself every year, just like I do everybody else. I need to do a better job. I'm not happy with some of the player personnel decisions that have been made, in looking back. I need to do a better job in the decision-making process."

Smith wouldn't offer specifics. He often speaks of signing "character" players, yet the Chargers have had their share of off-field problems in his six-year tenure.

"It's also obvious to me I need to do a better job in bringing in the right kind of players who can help us on the field and off the field," he said, emphasizing the word "off."

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson and defensive tackle Jamal Williams were arrested for suspicion of DUI less than a month apart. Jackson's arrest came five days before the Pittsburgh playoff game.

"You want to be a member of our organization, talent alone is not going to keep you here," Smith said. "One thing I will never deviate from is character. Never."

The GM wouldn't hint which way the Chargers will go in the draft, other than to say they don't need a punter or kicker.

"We've got to fix a lot of things," he said.

Two obvious areas of concern are the offensive line and secondary.

"I just know we're not good enough, but I will say this -- we need to have a solid, consistent running game. ... And we have to figure out how to stop passing assaults on this football team. We've got to get off the field. Those two areas, until we get that figured out, we will not go where we want to go."

Although they've won three straight AFC West titles, Smith noted that division rivals Kansas City and Denver have new bosses with "New England Patriots philosophies."

Scott Pioli, who helped build and lead a dynasty in New England, was hired as Kansas City's GM. Josh McDaniels, the man behind the Patriots' scoring machine, was hired as Denver's coach. Denver's collapse, which got Mike Shanahan fired, allowed the Chargers to win the division.

"That scares me a little bit," Smith said. "I just feel they're going to get it done and get it done right. How quickly, I don't know."