Chargers GM clears air with LT

The ball was in A.J. Smith's court; this time, he went directly to LaDainian Tomlinson.

Smith, the San Diego Chargers' general manager, called the star running back and had a 10-minute conversation Monday night in an effort to close the chapter on what had been a weeklong verbal saga.

"It was important to me that LT know exactly what happened," Smith said, according to the Chargers' Web site.

Last week, Tomlinson had posted a statement on his personal Web site, affirming his desire to stay with the Chargers, who are looking for salary-cap flexibility and might have to release him or ask him to take a pay cut.

Smith's response, made a day later in The San Diego Union-Tribune, was regarded as dismissive, and upset a number of Chargers players, as well as team president Dean Spanos.

Linebacker Shawne Merriman weighed in on Sunday, telling the Union-Tribune: "That [stuff] doesn't help bring a Super Bowl to San Diego ... And that [stuff] needs to stop, period. It needs to stop now."

"We're a team, upstairs and downstairs, no matter what," Merriman added, according to the newspaper. "This is a business, but if you address the situation publicly now you have turmoil.
They're going to make decisions upstairs. But we've got to be a team."

Later Sunday, Smith phoned Tomlinson in Tampa, and discussed the past week's events. According to the Chargers' team Web site, Smith said they had "a great talk -- the kind of talk we have at the beginning of each season."

"I just answered a question and unfortunately my response was inappropriate," Smith said. "After reading my response to the question, I can see why it was interpreted the way it was. I absolutely meant no disrespect toward LT -- none. I have the utmost respect for him on two fronts -- as a player and as a person."

Tomlinson, beset by injuries last season and unable play in the Chargers' playoff game Jan. 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, will count nearly $8.8 million against the salary cap this year.

"Dean Spanos and many members of our front office and coaching staff know exactly how I feel about LT," Smith said, according to the Chargers' Web site. "And that is what has gotten me through this difficult time. And most important, LT knows how I feel about him."

Smith didn't return phone calls seeking further comment, according to The Associated Press. The team has refused to make Spanos available to comment on the subject.

Sources told the Union-Tribune that during the 10-minute conversation between Smith and Tomlinson, no contract details were discussed.

"It was great to hear from [Smith]," Tomlinson said on the Chargers' Web site. "It really went well. It's always better talking directly to someone one-on-one. He was very upbeat and very sincere. He felt bad about what had happened."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.