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Just a city boy, living in South (Diego), he took the midnight train going anywhere. O.K., I changed the lyrics to Journey’s classic (now extremely kitschy) hit “Don’t Stop Believing,” but it’s time to start believing that Chula Vista’s Donnie Edwards will be punching a ticket for anywhere but San Diego next year.

Despite another standout year, Edwards appears headed for the free agent market after this season. The linebacker has been available via trade since the offseason. With the trade deadline come and gone, Edwards will most likely finish out the season with San Diego. With his five-year contract expiring at the end of the season, odds are Edwards will have to ply his trade elsewhere in 2007. So how did things go so wrong for Donnie?

Edwards has performed well on and off the field since returning to his hometown team. He’s had 100 or more tackles every year since signing with San Diego in 2002, leading the team in the category the past four seasons. Off the field, Edwards is a leader in the locker room and the community. He’s an extremely solid individual in a time when the Charger have public image problems: Steve Foley faces messy DUI charges after getting shot three times by a police officer and Terrence Kiel is charged with five felony counts of mailing codeine-based cough syrup to Texas.

If one could peek into the mind of General Manager A.J. Smith (because he certainly is not going to tell us what’s going on in there), there are a couple of reasons and scenarios which get in the way of re-signing Edwards.

Reason number one: Edwards is 33 years old. He will turn 34 this offseason. Smith probably deems Donnie a little long in the beard to re-sign. Granted, the linebacker is on pace for 80 tackles this year, well below his average the past four seasons.

Reason number two: Edwards must be asking for more than Smith wants to spend. Donnie is making $3.55 million this season, but his performance the past few years makes him more expensive.

Reason number three: The Chargers may deem Matt Wilhelm ready to take over and start on San Diego’s number one ranked defense. The young 25-year-old linebacker has shown flashes during his four years in a Chargers uniform, but hasn’t gotten a chance to play consistently. His emergence would make Donnie expendable.

– CHRIS NIXON

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