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Darren Sproles to become a free agent; Colts should make moves to sign him

I've been fighting a very nasty cold the last three days. This is why I didn't write anything yesterday. At first I thought it was the flu, but it ended up being a pretty bad head cold (sore throat, sinus headaches, chills, etc.). I'm back at about 75% now, able to sit in a chair and write (somewhat) coherently.

The big headline news while I was out of action was that the Chargers and the Eagles are letting LaDainian Tomlinson (Bolts From The Blue article here) and Brian Westbrook (Bleeding Green Nation article here) walk into free agency, respectively. These moves are not unexpected, but they signal the end of eras for the two successful franchises. I personally value Westbrook over Tomlinson because A) He doesn't whine and cry when things don't go his way, and B) He shows up in the playoffs.

However, the bigger news out of San Diego is the one getting the fewest headlines: The Chargers are letting Darren Sproles walk as well.

Think about this for a moment: At one point, the 2007 Chargers had LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, and Michael Turner all on their roster. In 2010, all three will likely be playing for other teams. After 2007, the Chargers opted to keep Tomlinson over Turner. Turner went to the Falcons and has scored 27 TDs in two season with them with a yards-per-carry average of about 4.7. Compare that to Tomlinson, who has scored 23 TDs and averaged about 3.6 a carry.

With Turner in Atlanta and Tomlinson cut, this seemed to suggest that Sproles would get a higher profile in the Chargers offense. Turns out such logic is not how the Chargers will operate:

Darren Sproles could well follow LaDainian Tomlinson out the door and will at least be given the chance to do so.

The Chargers remain interested in signing their kick returner and backup running back to a long-term deal, but they won't be retaining his services on a one-year basis as they did in 2009.

As the franchise player last year, Sproles made slightly more than $6.6 million last season. Because he would be entitled to a 10 percent increase in 2010, that means the Chargers will have to pay him almost $7.3 million for one year if they give him a tender as a restricted free agent.

Not gonna happen.

The Chargers and Sproles' agent will talk at the combine, for sure, and that is where a long-term contract will likely first be broached in earnest. But the Chargers will not offer a tender, and that means Sproles will be a free agent.

At this time, I will simply state the obvious to Bill Polian: SIGN THIS GUY!

Seriously, I have a very hard time not seeing Darren Sproles light up the NFL in an offense that features Peyton Manning. We all pretty much agree that Sproles is not an every down back. He is a complementary back who can make big plays when he gets into space.

Trust me. Colts fans have the playoff scars to prove it.

However, as a kick and punt returner, he is one of the most dangerous weapons in football. Used as a third down back, or a third WR, and he is deadly. If the issue is too much money wrapped up in running backs, I would have no problem seeing Joseph Addai cut in favor of making room for Sproles. I love Addai and think the world of him as a Colts back, but Donald Brown should (in theory) take over the main running back duties for this team at some point. A backfield of Brown, Sproles, and Mike Hart is an upgrade over last year's backfield, especially when you consider the ramifications on special teams. 

Now, because of the current (lack of) collecting bargaining agreement, there are limitations on how the "Final Eight" NFL teams that qualified for the 2009 season playoffs can sign free agents. There is an excellent write-up on this and many other new factoids over at Battle Red Blog. Regardless of these rules, Polian should push hard to sign Sproles. He would add a tremendous weapon to an already tremendous football team.