The Charger career of center Don Macek, one of the most durable players in club history and one of the last links to the Dan Fouts era, apparently has come to an end after 14 seasons with the decision by General Manager Bobby Beathard not to offer Macek a contract for the 1990 season.
Macek, 35, was a key part of the offensive line that protected Fouts through the 1970s and '80s and under Coach Don Coryell gave birth to the vaunted Air Coryell passing attack. He was the last remaining member of a Charger line that from 1981-83 allowed the fewest sacks per pass attempt in the NFL.
But his value to the team decreased after a shoulder injury that required surgery cut short his 1988 season after five games, and he was replaced in the starting lineup last year by rookie Courtney Hall.
Macek, whose contract expired Feb. 1, played in only two games last season. He was left unprotected in Plan B free agency, but when he did not sign with another team by the expiration Sunday of the two-month Plan B period his rights reverted to the Chargers. The Chargers have until April 15 to make an offer to resign Macek or let him go. But Beathard said Tuesday he already has made the decision not to have Macek return.
Macek began his Charger career in 1976 after he was drafted in the second round out of Boston College. He played guard his first three seasons before being moved to center in 1979. Of his 160 career games, 150 have been starts. He ranks fifth on the team in games played and is tied for third in seasons played, one behind Fouts and tackle Russ Washington, who teamed with him in protecting Fouts for seven of those seasons.
Macek could not be reached for comment.
Macek is one of five Chargers left unprotected in Plan B who did not sign with other teams and will not be invited back, Beathard said. The others are kicker Chris Bahr, cornerback Roy Bennett, inside linebacker Jim Collins and tight end Mark Walczak.
A sixth such player--wide receiver-punt returner Phil McConkey--announced Tuesday he had retired from the NFL and would run for a congressional seat in New Jersey as a Republican. Bennett is the only player among the six whose contract has not expired.
Beathard also said the Chargers have decided to seriously investigate trading Gary Anderson, their star running back who sat out the 1989 season in a contract dispute.
"We'll listen to anything right now," Beathard said. "We have had teams express a preliminary interest. But we really haven't had anybody who has pursued it."
Beathard said he did not want to identify which teams might be interested in trading for Anderson. But at least one team--the Tampa Bay Buccaneers--has acknowledged it met with Anderson about five weeks ago.
Beathard had been saying since he joined the Chargers Jan. 3 that he preferred to sign and keep Anderson. But his thinking apparently changed after the Chargers signed two running backs to lucrative, three-year contracts during the two-month Plan B free agency.
Those players--Ronnie Harmon from the Buffalo Bills and Thomas Sanders from the Chicago Bears--signed contracts valued at a total of $3.43-million, according to sources.
The Chargers also signed a third running back--Joe Mickles from the Washington Redskins--but he is expected to be used primarily on special teams. The signings give the Chargers six running backs on their roster in addition to Anderson: Marion Butts, Harmon, Mickles, Darrin Nelson, Sanders and Tim Spencer.
"During the Plan B period we wanted to prepare ourselves in the event Anderson wasn't going to be here--that we couldn't sign him or we traded him," Beathard said.
Beathard said he would prefer to resolve Anderson's status before the NFL draft April 22-23. If the Chargers trade Anderson, he would first have to agree to terms that would be acceptable to a new club, Beathard said.
The agent for Anderson, Peter Johnson of Cleveland, said he spoke with Beathard Monday and it is his understanding the Chargers want to trade Anderson.
"The conversation revolved around their interest in seeing what they could get for Gary," Johnson said. "Since Bobby has taken over there have been no contract discussions. I have never made him an offer and he has never made Gary an offer. That is an indication to me that the Chargers want to go in another direction."
A deal for Anderson before the draft could bring the Chargers additional draft choices at a time they might need them the most. This year's draft is expected to be one of the deepest in recent years because of the large influx of college juniors and the Chargers are short picks in the top rounds.
They have the fifth selection overall, but are assured of only one other selection in the next four rounds--their third-round choice. They also have the possibility of obtaining a third-round choice from Indianapolis as part of the deal that last season sent linebacker Chip Banks to the Colts, but Indianapolis has the option of giving the Chargers that pick or their second-round choice next year.
Beathard said he was assuming the Colts will hold onto their third-round choice this year. That would leave the Chargers with 12 selections in the 12-round draft, but nine of those would be in the last six rounds.
Plan B did help to lessen the Chargers' draft needs, Beathard said, but the limited free agency plan could not solve all the team's worries.
The Chargers signed nine players in Plan B and lost seven, only one of whom--defensive end Chris Gannon--figured to have much of a future with the team.
The Chargers received their most help at running back and punter. The acquisition of Harmon and Sanders means the Chargers will not draft a running back in the first round despite the availability of several top prospects, Beathard said. But needs remain at offensive line, secondary, wide receiver, linebacker, kick returner and kicker, he said.
"We did as well as expected in Plan B," Beathard said. "I am happy with what we accomplished in Plan B. But the key is now to have a good draft.
HOW CHARGERS FARED IN PLAN B
PLAYERS THEY SIGNED
Name Pos. Previous team Comment John Carney K Tampa Bay Will contend for kicking job Ronnie Harmon RB Buffalo Better receiver than runner John Kidd P Buffalo Will be the punter Joe Mickles RB Washington Special teams player Bruce Plummer S Indianapolis Could help in secondary Mark Rodenhauser C Minnesota Will be used as long snapper Thomas Sanders RB Chicago Career backup looking for start Mike Simmonds OG Tampa Bay 5 games in 3 years because of injuries Tom Toth OG Miami Injuries have limited him, too
PLAYERS THEY LOST
Name Pos. Previous team Comment Joe Campbell OLB Raiders Injuries limited him last year James FitzPatrick OT Raiders No. 1 pick who washed out Chris Gannon DE New England One they lost they might have kept Hank Ilesic P Rams Kidd made him expendable Brett Miller OT New York Jets Reunited with OL Coach Larry Beightol Elliot Smith CB Denver Broncos need secondary help Elvis Patterson CB Raiders Told to find another team