The San Diego Charger offensive line has been in flux ever since losing tackle Marcus McNeill and guard Kris Dielman to injury/retirement in 2011. Over the past several seasons there have been two lineman who’ve managed to stay in the starting rotation, center Nick Hardwick and guard/tackle Jeromey Clary.
Hardwick isn’t going anywhere this season, but the same might not be said for Clary. The guard position is beginning to get crowded through the offseason maneuvering of General Manager Tom Telesco, and Clary is due some substantial non-guaranteed money. The sum of which is 4.5 million dollars to be exact.
Chad Rinehart, Rich Ohrnberger and Johnny Troutman all saw time at guard last season, along with Clary. Through the draft, Telesco took Notre Dame guard Chris Watt in the third round. Watt has been practicing at rookie mini camp at right guard, Clary’s current starting position with the team. Early this week, the team signed Craig Watts, an undrafted rookie free agent guard out of West Texas A&M, after an impressive invite try-out.
Granted, the team needs depth on the line, but no matter how you slice it, it’s more than likely that the team won’t carry six guards.
Although it appeared that the offensive line had truly come together toward the end of the 2013 season, Clary had the third lowest run-block rating for all guards, according to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus. An argument could be made for Clary’s versatility, as he was the team’s starting right tackle for some time. That argument is dashed fairly easily due to the dominance and youth of DJ Fluker, and due to anyone having watched Clary turn the right tackle position into the right turnstile.
Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris is known throughout the league as one of the best in the business, and is likely the one responsible for the renaissance of the line play last season. If Joe D can turn young wattage into high boltage, (sorry for that) then Clary becomes immediately expendable. As it is, rookies and all, it’s looking that direction anyway.
Clary is obviously happy to be a Charger, is well-liked, and is good for the locker room; when chasing a championship, however, sometimes tough decisions need to be made. Saving the 4.5 million would put the Chargers in a much nicer place when it comes to some thoughts on roster versatility. It’s unclear whether Telesco is considering bringing in any other depth. The option to attempt to trade Clary also exists. Clary is still certainly capable of starting at guard in the NFL and could yield at least some future late round draft pick(s).
As Charger fans saw last offseason, it’s good to have a plan B for key contributors on the roster as unfortunate things can happen during training camp or early in the season. That being said, there are still some quality veterans seeking employment whom would likely fit nicely into the range of extra cap space generated by cutting ties with Clary. Let’s explore some options.
WR Santonio Holmes:
Pros- Big play wideout with a lot of big experience, including one very memorable Super Bowl winning catch from Ben Roethlisberger. Versatility with differing offenses/QBs.
Cons- Does not fit the Chargers’ locker room mold. Known to be selfish and disruptive. May want more money than he’s worth. Santonio has also fought injuries lately.
DE Brett Keisel :
Pros- Coming off of a long and prosperous career as a Pittsburgh Steeler, Keisel would add significant experience and depth along a thin, albeit talented, defensive line. Could be a big time rotational player and mentor, and has a nasty streak.
Cons- There must be a reason the Steelers chose to not bring back this team and fan favorite. Lack of versatility and aging speed likely put Keisel out of the Steelers’ future plans. Can push up field, but likely not effectively get off blocks if the play isn’t coming right at him. Injuries are also a concern.
DT Aubrayo Franklin:
Pros- Spent a productive season with the Bolts in John Pagano’s defensive scheme in 2012. Quick and powerful and lots of experience in 3-4 schemes. Familiarity with some of the young roster and coaching staff. Could line up at end or tackle.
Cons- A hired gun who’s been floating around the league year to year, may not offer much to a young and impressionable locker room. Could be part of an unwanted old regime attitude and culture.
CB Asante Samuel:
Pros- Has a career full of highlight reel plays in big games. Is a ball hawking veteran who could play on any down and be trusted in many situations at least as much as current potential starter Richard Marshall.
Cons- Instincts may still be sharp, but speed and durability may be a factor late in his career. Takes a lot of risks, and can get burned. May be a gamble when Marshall is still productive.
Other possible options:
DT Kevin Williams
DT Isaac Sopoaga
The other lingering option is for Clary to restructure his contract, as some other Charger players recently have done. The truth is that through the good, the bad, and the ugly of his career, Clary has always been a good Charger. If he wants to stick around to see this new team through, he’ll simply have to do it at a more team-friendly price. If Clary is on this team week one, it must speak very strongly of his intangible value to the team, but it will still be all but certain that the clock is ticking in San Diego.