Chargers likely to let pricey Brees test free agency

SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers are primed to let quarterback Drew Brees test free agency.

San Diego general manager A. J. Smith said Monday the team has
declined to designate Brees as its franchise or transition player.
The deadline for designating a player with either tag is Thursday.

If the Chargers had slapped either of the tags on Brees, he
would be guaranteed nearly $10 million in a one-year salary next
season. That's too rich for the Chargers, considering Brees was
injured in the team's season finale, tearing the labrum in his
throwing shoulder while trying to recover a fumble.

Brees underwent surgery last month and is expected to begin
throwing in May. But whether he is at full strength by the
Chargers' July training camp isn't known.

Brees and the Chargers are talking about a multiyear pact. But
so far, no agreement has been reached and on March 3, Brees can
negotiate with any team.

"Our proposals have not been acceptable at this point and time,
but we will continue to talk," Smith said. "Drew Brees wants to
be here, we want him to be here. Drew wants a long-term contract,
we want him to have a long-term contract. We are working on that
and continue to work on it."

But the Chargers are confident they have enough depth to reach
the playoffs even if Brees walks, according to Smith. Behind Brees
is Philip Rivers, the 2004 draft's fourth overall pick, and veteran
A. J. Feeley.

Brees, who's entering his sixth season, resurrected his career
in 2004. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl after throwing for
27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He was also the NFL
Comeback Player of the Year while directing the Chargers to the AFC
West title and their first playoff appearance since 1995.

Last year, Brees had another solid season, throwing for a
career-high 3,576 yards, the sixth-most in team history. He had 24
touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

San Diego's initial proposal for a long-term deal was shot down
by Brees and his representative, Tom Condon.

Brees or Condon weren't available for comment.

Smith said a deal could still be struck, but only if the other
party accepts the club's value it has placed on Brees.

The sticking point appears to be the guaranteed money in the
pact's first year, with the remainder of the compensation being
tied to incentives reached by Brees, if his shoulder is right.
Smith said once Brees hits the open market -- if he does -- the price
the Chargers are willing to pay will not fluctuate.

"We already have a value set in our mind; that is not a factor
at all," said Smith, who is 25-24 in his three years as general
manager. "We know exactly what we do and we have a way of doing
our business."

And while Smith said he wants Brees back, it was evident in his
remarks that he's cautiously optimistic Rivers can do the job.

Rivers was a standout at North Carolina State where his 13,484
passing yards were second at the time in NCAA history. Rivers has
thrown just 30 passes in the NFL.

"I really like Philip Rivers very much, except he has never
played in the National Football League, except to dabble in it and
that is always a concern for all of us," Smith said. "Anytime a
collegiate player enters the National Football League, it starts
all over again. There are first-round busts and seventh-rounders
that go to [the Pro Bowl] every year."