SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers have released left tackle Jared Gaither, who will go down as one of the biggest busts in former general manager A.J. Smith's tenure.
Gaither's release Wednesday after just one season of a four-year, $24.5 million contract will cost the Chargers a $6 million hit against the salary cap this year.
Gaither was claimed off waivers from division rival Kansas City late in the 2011 season and played well in the final five games. Eligible for free agency, he re-signed with the Chargers, who said there wasn't a better alternative on the market. Gaither developed a mysterious back injury early in training camp last summer and was slow to return, raising questions about his work ethic. Nicknamed "The Big Lazy" earlier in his career, he played in only four of the first 10 games before injuring his groin and going on injured reserve.
Signing Gaither in essence hurt the Chargers for two seasons.
Not having the 6-foot-9, 340-pound tackle available for most of last year was among the reasons $93 million quarterback Philip Rivers was under siege so much. Rivers was sacked 49 times. Having to constantly scramble for his well-being, the QB committed 22 turnovers.
The cap hit the Chargers will take for Gaither's deal, coupled with other contracts given during Smith's uncharacteristic free agent spree last spring, has helped hamstring the Chargers this off-season. In the first few hours of free agency, right guard Louis Vasquez signed with the AFC West rival Denver Broncos.
Smith and coach Norv Turner were fired after the Chargers went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.
New general manager Tom Telesco didn't respond to a request for comment on the release of Gaither, who earned $9 million last year, including an $8 million signing bonus.
Releasing Gaither magnifies the Chargers' need to take a left tackle in next month's draft.
Even when Gaither tried to play through his groin injury, things didn't work out.
At the end of a Chargers loss at New Orleans on Oct. 7, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth saw something wrong with Gaither and predicted that New Orleans Saints defensive end Martez Wilson would sack Rivers to end the game.
After Wilson blew past the hobbled Gaither on Rivers' blind side to force and recover a fumble, Collinsworth said: "Nobody saw it. You could see it on the play before. He couldn't move. ... He's limping out there. He's doing his best. He should have turned around to Philip Rivers and said, 'Either I've got to go out or you have to give me help on this side.' "
The next day, Turner said Gaither's injury wasn't brought to his attention, either by the player or an assistant coach.