SAN DIEGO — The Charger careers of offensive tackle James FitzPatrick, cornerback Elvis Patterson and linebacker Jim Collins apparently have come to an end.
The three are among 17 players left unprotected by the Chargers in the NFL's Plan B limited free-agent program. And General Manager Bobby Beathard said they are not wanted back.
"We figured we would be better without them," Beathard said Friday after the Chargers released a list of 37 players they had protected under the program.
All three had been disappointments.
FitzPatrick is a 1986 first-round draft choice who never was able to hold a starting job, even when handed the opportunity last season by Coach Dan Henning. Patterson joined the team as a replacement player during the 1987 strike and had three erratic seasons. Collins, a former Pro Bowl player with the Rams, was signed under Plan B last year with the expectation he would be a starter; he was instead beaten out by Cedric Figaro, whose NFL career had previously consisted of a six-game rookie season in 1988.
None could be reached for comment.
The three were among the more familiar names on a rather undistinguished list of unprotected players, most of whom came to the Chargers as free agents themselves.
Among the other more notable players not protected were backup quarterback David Archer, kicker Chris Bahr, punter Hank Ilesic, center Don Macek, tackle Brett Miller and linebacker Ken Woodard, the team's leading special teams player.
Players left off the list of protected players are considered unconditional free agents and have until April 1 to sign with any of the other 27 NFL teams without compensation to their previous team. If the player is not signed by April 1, he may rejoin his old team.
Beathard said he would consider inviting back unprotected players, other than the three he mentioned, if they do not sign by April 1.
But Henning said that some of the older unprotected players, such as Bahr, Collins and Macek, might consider retirement. Bahr, who turns 37 today, and Macek, who will be 36 in July, are 14-year veterans. Collins turns 32 in June.
Bahr said he was not surprised he was left unprotected but troubled if the decision might mean the end of his Charger career.
"I was looking forward to coming back to San Diego," Bahr said from his home in Centre, Pa. "I thought I deserved a chance to return."
Bahr made 17 of 25 field-goal attempts, including a 45-yarder on the last play of the final game to defeat Denver, 19-16. This is the second consecutive year Bahr has been left unprotected under Plan B. He came to the Chargers from the Raiders last year.
Beathard said it was possible Bahr would return but that the team was actively seeking a new kicker.
"We would like to upgrade at that position, and we think we can," Beathard said.
Bahr is one of four unprotected players who were acquired by the Chargers in the first year of Plan B. The others are tight end Andy Parker, Collins and Miller.
Last year, the Chargers were one of the busiest teams in the league during the two-month Plan B period, losing five players and signing 11. But after reviewing the list of 475 players left unprotected by the other 27 teams, Beathard said few interested him.
"It doesn't look real exciting," Beathard said from Indianapolis, where he is attending a workout of college players. "There are a couple of players we're going to go after. We might end up with four or five players that will make our team."
Beathard declined to name players who might be pursued but said team officials spent part of the day contacting either the players or their agents. Beathard said before the release of the lists that he hoped to upgrade the offensive line. But that changed Friday.
"The help we get in the offensive line probably will have to come from the draft," he said.
Fourteen of the 37 players protected by the Chargers were among the 23 whose contracts expired Thursday. This includes quarterback Jim McMahon, linebacker Leslie O'Neal, cornerback Gill Byrd and free safety Vencie Glenn.
These players are conditional free agents and may sign an offer sheet with another team until April 1. The Chargers can then retain the player by matching the offer. If the Chargers allow the player to change teams, they would be compensated with draft choices.
The Chargers will not attempt to resign running back/return specialist Dana Brinson, Coach Dan Henning said. Brinson, an eighth-round draft choice from Nebraska, started the season as the heir apparent to Lionel James but finished on the team's developmental squad. Henning said the Chargers would be interested in re-signing running back Victor Floyd, an 11th-round choice from Florida State, who also finished the season on the developmental squad. Developmental players are not part of the Plan B program but are free to negotiate with other teams.
THE CHARGERS' PLAN FOR PLAN B