Here in the middle of the free agency signing period, the San Diego Chargers brass find themselves having already made significant headway to improving the team. Offensive line has been an area of woe with all the injuries and quarterback Philip Rivers has paid the price for that instability with his body. The offensive line allowed 37 sacks and 75 quarterback hits last season, up from 30 sacks and 60 hits in 2013.
The Chargers started with signing left tackle King Dunlap to a four-year deal. A couple days ago the team signed hulking guard Orlando Franklin from the Denver Broncos to a five-year deal. Center Trevor Robinson was signed to a two-year deal. The offensive line is already in a lot better shape than it was at the end of last season.
GM Tom Telesco is in the midst of addressing the wide receiver corps as of late. A few days ago, free agent Stevie Johnson agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the team. Johnsons’ former 49ers teammate Michael Crabtree is next up on the Chargers’ radar. A lot of attention is being focused on bringing in veteran wideouts. Johnson will be entering his eighth NFL season and Crabtree is entering his seventh season. Even if Crabtree does sign, it’s not going to keep the Chargers brain trust from choosing a prospect from the very deep wide receiver talent pool.
What the position does need is an upgrade and depth. Malcom Floyd is on the last year of his contract and in the twilight of his career. Eddie Royal bolted for Chicago. Keenan Allen was the focal point of opposing defense so his production decreased last season from the added attention. Veterans are going to help bridge the gap that is Allen’s ascension to a legitimate number one receiver and the draft picks that will benefit from their presence.
Crabtree was the tenth pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. At 6’1, 214 he is a great possession receiver. The 27-year old was a recipient of the Biletnikoff award given to the nation’s best college football receiver in back-to-back seasons in 2007 and 2008. He also was the number one receiver during San Francisco’s march to the Super Bowl in 2012. Crabtree was the leader in touchdowns and yardage in the 2012 posteseason.
The biggest issue with Crabtree are injuries. An ACL injury took him out after only five games of the 2013 season. He returned last season and played all 16 games. The 49ers never got on track offensively and Crabtree suffered his worst season statistically, only averaging 10 yards per catch. A foot injury upon entering the league robbed him of five games during his rookie year. Otherwise, he’s only missed one other game.
Although he’s only finished with over 1000 yards receiving once, he’s the big body receiver Rivers prefers. Never a speed burner, he still exhibits sharp route running and possesses the ability to stretch the field vertically. He brings a toughness and a swagger to the team. As of this writing, Crabtree has garnered interest from the Chargers and Washington Redskins but has only visited the Dolphins. He still hasn’t signed a contract with the ‘Fins even though its been reported he’s spent the last two days in Miami. Perhaps new signee Johnson will help the Chargers recruit his former teammate to America’s Finest City.
“Games are won and lost in the trenches.” How many times have we heard that from coaches and commentators alike? I think the 2014 Charger season proved that out.
A patchwork offensive line was tasked with protecting Philip Rivers, was not consistently effective. Too many times we saw #17 running for his proverbial life. The run game was terrible as well. The Chargers lost their anchor, Nick Hardwick early in the season and now for good with his expected retirement. A total of five men played at the center position. Johnny Troutman was awful. DJ Fluker’s inexperience at the professional level was exposed in his Sophomore season. Truth be told, I felt King Dunlap was the only bright spot along the front five.
The defensive front seven wasn’t a whole heck of a lot better. Donald Butler was invisible. The nose tackle by committee was a failure. Kendall Reyes seemed to regress. Pressure from the outside linebackers (pass rush specialists in a 3-4) weren’t helped by their teammates. Corey Liuget was the only consistent performer on the defensive side.
With the Free Agency period beginning on March 10, I’ve been going over the list of pending free agents and have compiled a wish list of whom I’d like to see Tom Telesco pursue. Also, I will look at who the casual fan clamors for and why I don’t see them in lightning bolts in 2015. This, of course, is without considering salary restraints.
On Defense, nose tackle is of particular concern to me. You may say that John Pagano ran a base 3-4 less than half the time. Perhaps because NT was a weak link? Sean Lissemore didn’t impress at all. Ryan Carrethers showed potential until he got hurt, but he needs seasoning. Ricardo Mathews is a serviceable sub, but the Chargers haven’t had a stud nose tackle since Jamal Williams. Personally, I think this is one position Tom Telesco needs to look over the free agent crop. Chargers can ill afford to have the front seven compromised by the nose being the weak link.
Should Denver not retain Terrence Knighton, he tops my list. He’s big, he’s quick and he’s strong. He can take on multiple blockers, which is what your NT needs to do. He’s durable, having started 16 games in four of his six NFL seasons. Dan Williams of the Arizona Cardinals is another. While his numbers (tackles and assists) don’t stack up to Knighton’s, he’s been a force in the middle of the Arizona defensive front. I don’t see Ndamukong Suh in lightning bolts at all. He’s a 4-3 defensive tackle, and I’m not convinced he can make the transition to a 3-4 NT. His inability to control of his temper concerns me as well.
A stud in the middle of the 3-4 has a ripple effect on the rest of the front seven as well, so this position is critical to the success of the Charger defense. Washington’s Danny Shelton looks impressive if they wait for the draft to fill the need at NT. Kid’s got a motor. If Tom Telesco doesn’t want a NT, then perhaps he, Mike McCoy and John Pagano should abandon the 3-4.
On the offensive side of the trenches, signing King Dunlap to a new deal was huge (no pun intended). He was rock solid protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side. As for the interior of the line, I’m really worried. Mike Iupati tops mosts lists. He’s a solid guard, he’s quick and he’s been durable for San Francisco. Denver’s Orlando Franklin is another solid possibility. Again, he’s durable and we all know that Denver’s line has been great in protecting Peyton Manning the last few years.
Depth can be filled in through the draft. The Bolts need to draft and groom for the future. Chris Watt will be better this year, having been forced into service with as a rookie. Fluker needs to improve his footwork and quickness if he’s going to continue to play right tackle. I focused on guards through free agency because all indications seem to point to Fluker staying at RT.
That’s my take on the trenches on both sides of the ball. Next, I’ll look at linebackers and running backs.
Thanks for reading, and let me know what your thoughts are!
Now that the 2014 season is over, the Chargers are now moving full steam ahead into free agency preparation and draft evaluation. Truth be told, this process started months ago and now is the time to focus on those two fronts and make some noise.
There are multiple holes on each side of the ball that will need to be filled if the team hopes to make a run at the postseason next year. With the free agency period coming before the draft, the Bolts must find some solid veterans to come in and help get this team over the hump and into the playoffs.
There are some marquee players available in free agency this year. Most of them will not be on this list. I am trying to be realistic when it comes to the true possibility of guys being signed to the team. As much as I’d give my left arm to have a DeMarco Murray, Randall Cobb, Dez Bryant or Jason Pierre-Paul, among others, it is likely that they will either be re-signed by their respective teams or their price tags will be too high for Tom Telesco.
Below I’ll list 10 players that make sense as additions to the Chargers. They are not listed in any particular order of importance, so to speak.
RT – Bryan Bulaga ( Green Bay Packers )
With the likely move of DJ Fluker to right guard, there will be a big hole next to him at right tackle. Although I said there was no particular order to this list, he would be my primary target in free agency. Bulaga will be expensive, but if there was one player that I would spend on, it would be him.
RB – Mark Ingram ( New Orleans Saints )
It appears as though Ryan Mathews’ time has run out in San Diego. As much as I respect his physical running style, it seems that the team’s patience has run out with his inability to stay on the field. Ingram had a good year in 2014. He missed 1,000 yards rushing by only 36 yards and he managed to score 9 touchdowns on the ground. Like Mathews, minus the speed, he is a physical runner that can grind out the hard yards. A backfield consisting of Ingram, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown would be more than sufficient in getting the ground game going.
DT – Dan Williams ( Arizona Cardinals )
The lack of a true nose tackle has hurt the Chargers for a while. The play of Corey Liuget has been affected and so has the play of the middle backers due to not having that large, commanding presence in the center of the defense. Despite being a former first-round pick, Williams could be signed at a reasonable price. He could immediately come in and contribute as a starter in the base defense. Williams is definitely worth a look.
OLB – Brian Orakpo ( Washington Redskins )
Orakpo is coming off of a year where he missed all but seven games. This is the second time in three years where he missed significant time due to injuries.
Now, I am not trying to scare you off by stating this. It actually works in favor of the teams that are thinking about signing him. He should be affordable due to his injury history.
Orakpo, minus the two aforementioned seasons above, has proven to be a good pass rusher with 40 career sacks. He has played six seasons, but it is fair to take away two years and see that he averages almost ten sacks a year when healthy. The Charger pass rush has been non-existent in recent years. It is obvious that a boost is needed at the outside linebacker spot. The former Texas Longhorn could provide just that.
G/T – Orlando Franklin ( Denver Broncos )
Since being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, Franklin has started all but one game. He started his career as a tackle, but has since been moved to guard. At 6’7″ and 320 pounds, he is a huge man with decent feet. He is very strong and manages to take advantage of his strength by steering defensive linemen in the direction in which he needs them to go.
As mentioned above, the Chargers love versatile players. The fact that Franklin can play both guard and tackle is a plus. If the team misses out on Bulaga, Orlando would be a solid second-option as a free agent.
CB – Chris Culliver ( San Francisco 49ers )
In his third year in the league Culliver started 14 games. In his time on the field he collected 4 interceptions, 45 total tackles, one fumble forced and one fumble recovered. The San Diego cornerback position is a big question mark going into 2013. Brandon Flowers, Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist are all free agents. Though “Gilly” switched to strong safety in ’14, he also saw time at the nickel corner position. Re-signing Flowers should be near the top of the list of priorities for Telesco. But there will be some decisions to make regarding the other players.
Culliver is an upgrade over Wright and Gilchrist. He has good size and his playmaking ability would make him a solid addition. Because his career is on the upswing, he may desire a larger salary than the Bolts feel comfortable paying.
OT – Byron Bell ( Carolina Panthers )
Bell is another player that has barely missed any time since being drafted; only two games. He has experience at the left and right tackle spots, most recently as the blindside protector in Carolina. He is going to wow anyone in any given category but he is solid across the board. The need to keep Philip Rivers upright is crucial to the success of this team moving forward.
Bell’s contract could be a little tricky with his recent transition to left tackle. The word out of Charlotte is that the Panthers would like to re-sign him but they don’t want to overpay. The Chargers are probably in that same boat.
That being said, if some of the other Oline options fall through, Bell could be there if he hangs around without being picked up.
DE – Alex Carrington ( St. Louis Rams )
This would be an under the radar signing and I can’t imagine it costing hardly anything to gain his services. Carrington has been in the NFL for five years. He has yet to make his mark on defense but he has blocked 6 kicks – four field goals and two extra points – on special teams.
Coming from small Arkansas State in college, his jump to the league was tough. He does not bring much as far as getting after the quarterback but he is good against the run. Carrington would be a backup along the defensive line and would not be asked to do too much. He could be a nice add to special teams and a contributor off of the bench on defense.
RB – Justin Forsett ( Baltimore Ravens )
In what was one of the better stories in the NFL this year, Forsett had a great year in 2014. Known as a journeyman prior to last season, he came in and averaged a league-high 5.4 yards per carry and scored 8 touchdowns on the ground. He eclipsed 1,200 yards while playing for his fifth team in his seven-year career.
The downside to Forsett is that he will turn 30-years-old during the 2015 season. This could make teams leery of signing him to a lucrative deal. Depending on what direction San Diego wants to go in regarding their current backfield, he could be a nice complement to the existing running back corps. He also poses a threat as a receiver out of the backfield hauling in over 40 passes in 2014.
CB – Perrish Cox ( San Francisco 49ers )
Clearly having his best year as a pro, Cox finished last season with 5 interceptions and two fumbles recovered. The 49ers are in trouble as they cap number currently sits in the negative. They have multiple big name players to work out deals with and they won’t have enough money to keep them all. Cox could end up being one of the odd men out. He has good coverage skills and he has improved with the increase in playing time that he has seen.
Like his teammate in San Francisco, Culliver, Cox would also be an upgrade for the Charger secondary.
These are ten names that I will be keeping an eye on during this offseason. In your opinion, whom did I leave out? Is there a player here that you are not too keen on? Let me know by leaving your thoughts and comments below.
Thanks a lot for reading.