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Chargers release Marcus McNeill, sign C Nick Hardwick to three-year deal

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
Rivers and Hardwick get to keep making beautiful music together.(Getty Images)
The Chargers made a move to keep a key offensive lineman from reaching free agency, as they signed center Nick Hardwick to a three-year deal on Tuesday, the team announced.

The team also made a significant but expected cut on Tuesday too, releasing tackle Marcus McNeill. McNeill's last two seasons haven't been his best with the Chargers, and they will also be his last.

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Bolts GM A.J. Smith said that the team is open to re-signing McNeill. And Alvin Keels, McNeill's agent, tweeted that McNeil is "in good spirits" and has been "cleared to resume play."

"Marcus was cleared to resume play this past Friday by orthopedic neck & spine specialist Dr. Craig Brigham," Keels tweeted. "Marcus is in good spirits and has a great appreciation for the Chargers organization. He is looking forward to getting back to football."

McNeill, drafted by the Bolts in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, started all but two games for the first four years of his career, and appeared to be developing into one of the top tackles in the NFL.

The move isn't a huge surprise because McNeill hadn't been cleared by a team doctor to play, and therefore his salary for 2012 wasn't guaranteed.

McNeill will draw lots of interest from teams in a free-agent market that's particularly thin at tackle, but he'll need to prove he's healthy before making big bucks.

Jared Gaither, who stepped into the left tackle role after McNeill was injured and is also a free agent, now has a substantial amount of leverage over the Chargers, who have no one worthwhile on the roster capable of protecting Philip Rivers' blindside.

The Chargers also released Everette Brown, a former second-round pick by the Panthers, as well as linebacker Nate Triplett, cornerback Dante Hughes and wideout Bryan Walters.

San Diego tendered restricted free agents Brandyn Dombrowski (the guy who would play tackle if the season started today), Richard Goodman and Mike Windt.
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