No team had fewer players on my top-200 players list before the season than the San Diego Chargers, who only had one, safety Eric Weddle. However, at the end of the season, they ended up winning a playoff game and coming within a touchdown of the Broncos in San Diego. What happened? Well the primary factor was a throwback year by Philip Rivers. After posting QB ratings of 100+ for 3 straight seasons from 2008-2010, Rivers saw his QB rating drop into the 80s in both 2011 and 2012. There were rumors of injuries and age, going into his age 32 season, was also seen as a factor.
Instead, Rivers found the fountain of youth in 2013, with help from his new coaching staff and the front office. New head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt did a fantastic job fixing Rivers and building an offense better suited to his strengths. Also, after playing for 2 years with minimal offensive supporting cast, new GM Tom Telesco (who got some Executive of the Year consideration from me) did a great job fixing the situation, without big offensive signings and with just one off-season. Drafting DJ Fluker in the first round helped, but the real steals were getting Keenan Allen (an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate) in the 3rd round getting and King Dunlap and Danny Woodhead on cheap contracts in free agency.
The results were great. Rivers posted a 105.5 QB rating that tied for his career best. He completed 69.5% of his passes for an average of 8.23 YPA, 32 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, while leading the Chargers to a 2nd place finish in rate of moving the chains, only behind the Broncos. The defense was still a big problem, as they allowed opponents to move the chains at the 5th highest rate in the NFL. Eric Weddle remains their only top level player on that side of the ball. That being said, with the offense as good as it is, they have a chance to be right in the post-season mix again in 2014.
The Chargers might have the worst cornerbacks in the NFL, a big part of the reason why they ranked 28th in rate of moving the chains against. Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall, Derek Cox, and Johnny Patrick were their top-4 cornerbacks last season. They ranked 102th, 101st, 104th, and 94th respectively out of 110 eligible cornerbacks. Cox will probably be cut, while Marshall will be a free agent this off-season. They desperately need cornerback help. They need at least one, if not two new starters at the position.
The Chargers had just 35 sacks this season, tied for 23rd in the NFL. They also ranked 28th on Pro Football Focus’ in terms of team pass rush grade. Their lack of pass rush was way too evident in their loss in Denver to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Melvin Ingram came back from a torn ACL late in the season, but the 2012 1st round pick still hasn’t proven anything in his career. He struggled a bit as a rookie and was clearly not 100% in 2013 because of his injury history. He’ll be back as a starter in 2014, barring any setbacks, but they’ll need someone opposite him. Dwight Freeney’s future is in limbo going into his age 34 season after missing 12 games in 2013. He could be a cap casualty, a move that would save the Chargers 3.15 million in cash and on the cap.
He was better as a rookie in 2012, but Kendall Reyes struggled mightily this season. The former 2nd round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2013. They should bring in more competition for him in case this becomes a pattern and a long-term issue.
Starting left guard Chad Rinehart is a free agent, while right guard Jeromey Clary struggled mightily, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 72nd ranked guard out of 81 eligible. The former right tackle has been struggling for years and the Chargers could cut him and save 4.55 million on the cap by cutting him. Johnnie Troutman is an internal option, but he struggled mightily in 9 starts last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 60th ranked guard out of 81 eligible. The Chargers could need at least one, if not two new starters at guard this off-season if Rinehart, a decent starter, isn’t retained.
Nose tackle Cam Thomas is a free agent and he could be upgraded anyway. If he isn’t retained, they’ll need a new nose tackle, preferably one who can also play some 4-3 defensive tackle and 5-technique defensive end because the Chargers use a hybrid scheme and need help at those positions as well.
Manti Te’o struggled as a rookie, though the 2013 2nd round pick will get another chance to be the starter in 2014. Donald Butler has been better in the past, but he too struggled this season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. He’s a free agent this off-season and if he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced. Adding another middle linebacker for competition purposes isn’t a bad idea.
The Chargers need wide receiver help after Keenan Allen on the depth chart. Eddie Royal could be a cap casualty, owed 4.5 million, while Malcom Floyd is going into his age 33 season and may never play again because of a career threatening neck injury. That would just leave Vincent Brown as the only functional receiver on the depth chart after Allen. Depth is needed.
Nick Hardwick is still a good player, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked center, but he’s going into his age 33 season and is reportedly considering retirement. If he retires, they’ll have a gaping hole at center. Even if he doesn’t, adding a developmental center behind him isn’t a bad idea in case he’s not around much longer. He’s getting up there in age and will be a free agent next off-season.
Key Free Agents
MLB Donald Butler
A 2010 3rd round pick, Donald Butler was an above average starter on Pro Football Focus in 2011 and 2012, but he had a bad season this year, which was bad timing considering it was his contract year. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. He’s also missed 23 games in 4 seasons. Both of those things could impact his market this off-season. He may have to settle for one year prove it deals.
G Chad Rinehart
A 3rd round pick in 2008, Chad Rinehart was great as a starter in Buffalo in 2011, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked guard. However, he missed most of the 2012 season with injury and had to settle for a one year deal in San Diego. He wasn’t the same in San Diego, grading out slightly below average. He remains a one year wonder and will probably be looking at short-term deals again this off-season.
DT Cam Thomas
Cam Thomas has been a valuable rotational defensive lineman over the past 3 seasons, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in two of them, but he didn’t last season and he’s also combined for 1284 snaps played over the past 3 seasons. He’s only a part-time player and he won’t command a lot of money on the open market.
CB Richard Marshall
Richard Marshall has had an up and down career, but over the past 4 seasons, he’s had one season in which he played just 4 games and two seasons in which he graded out among Pro Football Focus’ 10 worst cornerbacks. Now going into his age 30 season, off of a season in which he graded out 101st out of 110 eligible cornerbacks, he should see a fairly cold market.
WR Danario Alexander
Danario Alexander is so talented when healthy, but he’s had 7 knee surgeries in his career. He caught 113 passes for 1781 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season at Missouri, but went undrafted in 2010 because of knee problems. He was able to rebound eventually and make an impact in the second half of the 2012 season with the Chargers, catching 37 passes for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns in 9 games, which extrapolates to 66 catches for 1170 yards and 12 touchdowns over 16 games. However, then he tore his other ACL before this season, forcing him to miss the season and putting his career in doubt. He’s highly unlikely to get anything more than a one year deal at the minimum, if he even gets anything.
Cap Casualty Candidates
FB Le’Ron McClain
Le’Ron McClain is little used fullback who played 134 snaps and who is going into his age 30 season in 2014. The Chargers can save 2.5 million in cash and on the cap by cutting him, which makes a lot of sense considering how unnecessary he is.
CB Derek Cox
Derek Cox was a bust of a free agent signing as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th worst ranked cornerback, including 4th worst ranked cornerback in terms of coverage grade. Fortunately, his contract was structured in a way that they can get out of the rest of the 13.1 million over 3 years left on his contract and actually save cap space in the short term. They’d save about 1.625 million in cap space by cutting him.
G Jeromey Clary
Jeromey Clary struggled for years at right tackle so they moved him to right guard. It didn’t help as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 72nd ranked guard out of 81 eligible. They can save 4.55 million on the cap by cutting him, which seems like a no brainer. That’s way too much to pay for a mediocre guard who is going into his age 31 season.
OLB Larry English
Larry English has been a massive bust as a 2009 1st round pick, totaling 789 snaps played from 2010-2013 combined. The Chargers can save 1.5 million in cash and cap space by letting him go.
WR Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal was the Chargers’ #2 wide receiver in terms of receiving yardage, catching 47 passes for 631 yards and 8 touchdowns. However, the Chargers will save 4.5 million on the cap and in cash by cutting him, which might be too tempting for the Chargers considering Royal has exceeded 345 yards in just half of his pro seasons.
OLB Jarret Johnson
Jarret Johnson is a two-down edge player who doesn’t provide much pass rush and he’s going into his age 33 season. The Chargers can save 4 million in cash and 2.5 million in cap space cutting him this off-season.
OLB Dwight Freeney
Dwight Freeney is a declining player going into his age 34 season who missed 12 games with injury last season. They might not find him to be worth the 3.15 million dollars in salary the Chargers owe him. They can save all of that on the cap by cutting him.
WR Malcom Floyd
The Chargers would endure a cap hit by cutting Floyd now, but they could save some cap space in the short-term by making him a post-June 1st cut. They may do that because Floyd is going into his age 33 season and attempting to recover from a career threatening neck injury. He also may just retire.