Having made great strides to retool on the offensive line, the Chargers now look to make the same significant upgrades on defense. Cornerback Brandon Flowers was locked in with a new four-year deal. Defensive End Ricardo Mathews was re-upped for one year. Defensive lineman Mitch Unrein was brought over from Denver. Secondary help was added with the signings of free agent cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Jimmy Wilson. Now it’s time to look at the hole at the linebacker position.
An underrated name that is still on the free agent market is inside linebacker Mason Foster, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6’1, 240 lb. Foster was a third round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. In his first three seasons, Foster registered 381 combined tackles, 12 passes defensed, six sacks, five interceptions and two touchdowns.
Known for his versatility, natural football instincts and toughness the 26-year old had a down season in 2015 with 62 combined tackles. Keep in mind he missed six games last season with a separated shoulder and strained Achilles or those numbers would have been higher. After having to adjust to three new defensive schemes in the last three years, he is to be commended for being able to perform consistently on a high level despite all the turnover in Tampa Bay.
Last season saw the arrival of a new head coach in Tampa Bay. Lovie Smith was brought in to replace Greg Schiano and with him came his pet creation, the Tampa 2 defense. Foster was lost in the shuffle in the new defense and is looking to join another squad that utilizes a conventional base defense. Word is Foster is in contract talks with the Bears but according multiple reports are far apart in discussions.
Foster would be a great addition to a Chargers linebacking corps that has been besieged by injuries. Until last season he had only missed one game. Mantei Te’o has (seemingly) chronic foot issues. Melvin Ingram is still rounding back into form. Coupled with the departures of Jarrett Johnson and Dwight Freeney and the underwhelming season registered by Donald Butler, Foster is a playmaker that could raise the game of those around him.
The Chargers still have plenty of cap space and Foster makes the team better. GM Tom Telesco is in prime position to swoop in and do what the Bears won’t, pay the man. The Chargers defense finished in the bottom third (24th) of the league last season and has plenty of room to get better.
The Greg One
Next Tuesday, the NFL free agency period will officially begin and we will watch the flurry of defections and signings like a wreck on the highway, unable to avert our eyes. The Chargers have a lot of holes to fill and there are many attractive names out there with more becoming available every day. Unlike previous seasons, the Chargers have a commodity they’re not used to; money.
Before accounting for cutting their own free agents, the Chargers already have in excess of 25 million in cap space to sign free agents. With the raising of the salary cap by another two million and recent retirements of favorites Nick Hardwick and Jarrett Johnson, the Chargers will have over 30 million to spend before the wheeling and dealing begins. This is a very exciting time to be a Chargers fan. We’re used to the front office having to shop out of the bargain basement for players. This offseason they get to pick from the brand names.
One of the pressing areas of need will be the secondary. The Chargers need to re-sign cornerback Brandon Flowers to solidify one side of the field. Flowers was the highest rated cornerback in the league before he was injured, cutting his season short after 14 games with a groin injury and a concussion. Chargers 2014 first round draft pick Jason Verrett served as an excellent complimentary corner until he was injured and lost for the season after five games with a torn labrum.
The depth chart is pretty thin when you consider cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist are also free agents who could be lost as well. With that in mind, I submit a very attractive option, Byron Maxwell of the Seattle Seahawks.
A member of the vaunted ‘Legion Of Boom’ secondary, Maxwell is a few days from being up for grabs and the Chargers would significantly upgrade their secondary with his addition. Maxwell (6’1, 207) is a longer, taller option at cornerback than the Chargers have on their roster right now. Whether by design or by coincidence, the bolts don’t have a single player in their secondary over six feet tall. Maxwell excels in press coverage and would give defensive coordinator John Pagano a lot more options with the game plan.
General Manager Tom Telesco will like the intangibles Maxwell brings to the table. A sixth round pick in 2011, the 27-year old Maxwell has many more years in the tank playing at a high level, barring injury. Paired with Verrett and Flowers, the Chargers would suddenly have one of the most formidable secondaries in the league with perennial All-Pro Eric Weddle holding down the safety position.
Although the market for Maxwell will be fierce, his price may not be as high as some expect. Being part of the Legion Of Boom may hurt his value as he was seen as a part of the whole, not exactly an individual standout. This will be his first big money contract and he will be eager to show that he is not just a ‘system’ cornerback. There’s no doubt Telesco can give him a deal that satisfies his percieved worth and is good for the team cap-wise. The Chargers should definitely apply the full court press to get Maxell out of Seattle and into lightning bolts.
The Greg One
The final cuts have come and gone. All 32 teams reduced to the league-mandated 53 man roster. Now the games begin. Teams kept players they hope to sneak through waivers to put on the practice squad while they comb through the waiver wire to look at the 600+ cuts made across the league, looking to fill any gaps they feel still remain.
With these cuts come the uninformed comments on social media saying let’s go sign this guy or that guy. Why? Because he has a name they recognize. Ironically or not, the same folks making these statements are the ones pushing the panic button over a 2-2 preseason record. In the interests of keeping it clean, I will refer to these folks as “star chasers”.
Let’s take a look at a couple of these and why the desired is an ill-advised move for the Chargers.
Champ Bailey. Released by New Orleans, his best years are clearly behind him. While there’s no disputing his first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials, he doesn’t belong wearing lightning bolts. At 36, he’s lost a step too many and had an injury-plagued training camp. Besides, the cornerback position looks pretty strong with Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett, Steve Williams, Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and rookie Chris Davis.
Michael Sam. He didn’t survive the Rams’ final cut and no team picked him up. I’m not worried about Sam being a distraction for the Chargers. After all, the whole Mantei Te’o circus blew out of town after he was drafted last year without as much as a whimper. Could his being open about his being gay scared teams away? Maybe, but why is Sam not a fit for the Bolts? He played Defensive End in college in a 4-3 scheme and the Chargers employ a base 3-4 defense. A 4-3 DE is a lot different from a 3-4 DE or OLB. A 4-3 DE doesn’t drop back in coverage and that can’t be taught over night. Again, with Jerry Attaochu, Dwight Freeney, Melvin Ingram, Jarret Johnson and Tourek Williams, barring injury of course, OLB isn’t a high concern.
Leon McFadden. OK, I get it. He played for the Aztecs. He was released by the Browns, kids! The Cleveland Freakin Browns! At any rate, the Jets claimed him anyway. The Chargers play the Jets in Week 5, so maybe we’ll be crying in our Cheerios, maybe we won’t. Besides, who would he replace?
Some times we as fans spend too much time dreaming and grasping at players because of their name without looking at whether they’d even be a fit for our team. As fans, we have to look past the name and look at the player’s fit against scheme and against the current roster.
The passion for our team is fantastic, but let’s stop and think before we start chasing names.