Chargers expect long holdouts

Two days before the San Diego Chargers begin their full-fledged training camp when the veterans join rookies for practices, general manager A.J. Smith is operating under the assumption that the team will be without the services of, at least, two of his top players.

And it may last awhile.

Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill are expected to hold out for an extended period. Linebacker Shawne Merriman could also hold out, but he is more likely to attend most of training camp.

McNeillMcNeillJacksonJacksonSpeaking about McNeill and Jackson, Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday that he has been told that the two players will be “out for a considerable amount of time.”

Smith said he, at this point, is expecting that both McNeill and Jackson will hold out for the first 10 games of the regular season and then report to accrue an NFL season. Smith admits he is disappointed that both players are likely to hold out for the long-term. Still, Smith said because of the CBA uncertainty the Chargers are reluctant to give out long-term deals.

“I believe they are preparing to withhold their services,” Smith said. “We’re preparing for that. If we get that back after 10 games, then we’ll deal with that. Getting two Pro Bowl-caliber players with six games to go and then potentially the postseason is not a bad thing.

“Whether they come back as starters, role players, or as injury replacements, that remains to be seen and will be up to (coach) Norv Turner … But six games is still a significant part of the season.”

Smith indicated that the Chargers aren’t necessarily standing pat, either. He said the waiver wire will be watched. Plus, Smith has a history of being an active trader. If he sees a situation to help the receiver and tackle positions while these two players are out, I’d bet he’d pursue it. Smith already brought in tackle Tra Thomas and slot receiver Josh Reed to improve the two positions.

Despite the situations, Smith said doesn’t plan to get upset at Jackson or McNeill even if the holdouts drag on.

“It’s their right,” Smith said. “There are other people in their shoes, who are playing, but it is their professional right. I’m not going to say they are bad guys. It’s their decision if they end up staying away.”

I think Smith is taking the right tact by assuming Jackson and McNeill aren’t coming back soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if Merriman shows up soon because his situation is different. Merriman has to play a full season to show he is fully recovered from a 2008 knee injury.

Meanwhile, the Chargers’ top pick Ryan Mathews remains unsigned. I get the indication that the talks could take some time, but there aren’t any major concerns that Mathews will stay away from camp for an extended period of time. The same can’t be said for McNeill and Jackson, and San Diego is preparing for the holdouts to last until the stretch run of the regular season.