The San Diego Chargers made two surprise moves in the hours before free agency began, deciding to keep speedy little Darren Sproles and releasing veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams.
The Chargers placed the maximum first- and third-round tender on Sproles on Thursday, offering him a contract for $7,283,000 for next season. If Sproles signs an offer sheet with another team, San Diego would have the right to match the offer or receive first- and third-round draft picks as compensation for losing him.
Agent Gary Wichard said the tender will allow the two sides to continue talking about a long-term deal.
Six days ago, a person familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Chargers hadn't made it official, told The Associated Press that the team had decided not to tender Sproles, allowing him to test the free agent market.
Wichard said there was "tremendous" interest in Sproles around the league, which may have led the Chargers to change their mind.
Williams has been one of San Diego's key run-stuffers for 12 seasons. He sustained a triceps injury in the 2009 season opener and missed the rest of the year. He also has a history of knee injuries.
The Chargers also made first-and third-round tenders to outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, left tackle Marcus McNeill and wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson.
Backup running back Michael Bennett also was released, leaving the Chargers thin at that position. LaDainian Tomlinson was released last week after a brilliant nine-year run with the Bolts. The Chargers are expected to take a running back high in the draft.