Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, a belly-rolling, lineman-battling 311-pounder, felt good about his team after its first day of organized team activities last week.
He saw Joey Bosa, the league's reigning rookie of the year, position himself down the line. Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown and Kyle Emanuel, the team's trio of young linebackers, were in the huddles. And the secondary was nearly at full strength, with the exception of Jason Verrett.
However, there was one glaring omission: linebacker Melvin Ingram, the unit's captain.
"We got everybody out that's supposed to be out here," Mebane said, "but Melvin is still doing his negotiating thing. I can't wait until he gets back and adds to the group. He's a great player."
"Doing his negotiating thing" qualifies as an update on Ingram's status, considering the prevailing silence since the Chargers placed the franchise tag on their edge rusher. "No update" has been the standard response to any questions about Ingram's absence.
Over the last two seasons, Ingram has been one of the best in the NFL at his job, with 18 1/2 sacks among his 125 tackles. He was considered one of the top free agents on the market this spring before the Chargers placed the tag on him, guaranteeing him at least a one-year deal worth $14.5 million.
The Chargers have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal with Ingram before they can offer only that one-year deal. At that point, Ingram can wait to sign it, a scenario that could mean the Chargers would be without one of their top defenders for part or all of training camp and possibly beyond.
With more passing around the league, edge rushers have become a critical part of NFL defenses and the best have commanded big contracts in free agency.
This offseason, Chandler Jones, who had 23 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, signed a five-year, $82.5-million deal with the Arizona Cardinals, $53 million guaranteed. Jason Pierre-Paul signed a four-year, $62-million deal with the New York Giants. Pierre-Paul, who suffered a serious hand injury in a fireworks accident, had seven sacks in 12 games last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ingram graded out better than both players last season.
Speaking at the NFL combine in early March, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said that keeping Ingram in a Chargers uniform was a critical part of the team's plan.
"We know Melvin was a priority with us this offseason. … the position he plays, what he's done for us — pass rushers are very important in this league," Telesco said. "If we didn't have Melvin Ingram, we'd have a pretty big hole as a pass rusher. It was important to get him back with us."
But, like Mebane knows, he's not back yet.
Organized team activities, such as those that will be held Tuesday at Chargers Park, give glimpses into what the coaching staff is thinking, but jobs are not likely to be won or lost before training camp.
Coach Anthony Lynn has said as much, noting that he doesn't like to evaluate players this time of year.
Still, there are openings for players to improve their stock on the roster, with backup running back, nickel cornerback and free safety among the positions where the depth chart could shift.
Branden Oliver, Kenjon Barner and Andre Williams all could be the "tandem back" that Lynn is looking to pair with Melvin Gordon.