The Chargers made another key defensive decision official Saturday by releasing veteran safety Jahleel Addae.
The move frees up $5 million in salary cap space with free agency about to open. The Chargers have almost $26.5 million in cap room.
Addae started all 16 regular-season games the last two years and all but one in which he played since 2015.
Coach Anthony Lynn called Addae “the consummate professional” in a statement.
“He’s a leader in the locker room and a big part of the culture we’ve been building,” Lynn said in the statement. “He’s also a high character individual, hard worker and a great mentor to a lot of the younger guys.
“Building a roster with this salary cap often means you have to make tough decisions and part ways with good people, and this is one of those situations. I want to thank Jahleel for everything he’s done in my two years here.”
The Chargers now can become active in a bountiful free-agent market for free safeties that includes Earl Thomas, Lamarcus Joyner and Tyrann Mathieu.
Thomas is the most accomplished of those available and played for Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley when both were with Seattle.
The three-time All-Pro was limited to four games last season after breaking his leg. Thomas also could prove too costly for the Chargers.
Rayshawn Jenkins, who just finished his second season, is one in-house option at free safety. He played an increasingly significant role in 2018.
Addae made the Chargers' roster as an undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan in 2013 and eventually became a pivotal part of their defense. In 2017, he had a career-high 95 tackles, which was second on the team.
With the arrival of rookie Derwin James last season, Addae was moved from strong safety to free safety, a switch that, at times, exposed his weaknesses in the middle of the field.
Still, the Chargers valued Addae’s toughness and understanding of the defense, as well as the presence he brought to the locker room.
After the season, general manager Tom Telesco called Addae “the heartbeat” of the secondary.
“He sets the tempo for us,” Telesco said in January. “He's a physical hitter, smart, gets players lined up. I really appreciate what he does for us and how he handles the situation.”
Looking to advance further in 2019 after falling one step short of the AFC title game, the Chargers are trying to strengthen a defense that was shredded by New England in the divisional playoff round.
The Patriots scored 35 points in the first half of an eventual 41-28 victory. In that game, injuries forced the Chargers to start seven defensive backs.