Positions of Need
Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman were awful last season at guard for the Chargers, grading out 73rd and 77th respectively out of 78 eligible. Chris Watt, a 2014 3rd round pick, was decent as a rookie on 496 snaps at both guard and center. He should have a bigger role in 2015 and could easily be a future starter, but they need someone else who can start opposite him at the very least.
Guard wasn’t their only issue on the offensive line last season. In fact, far from it. Left tackle King Dunlap was the only offensive linemen to play a snap for the Chargers and grade out above average and he’s a free agent this off-season. Right tackle DJ Fluker struggled, grading out below average for the 2nd straight season to start his career, after the Chargers drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2013. Even if Dunlap is re-signed, they need help at the position. Dunlap is going into his age 30 season, while Fluker’s future might be at guard. I’d be surprised if the Chargers didn’t bring in some sort of offensive lineman with their first or second round pick and that offensive lineman could easily start week 1 in 2015.
You guessed it. The Chargers need help at the center position as well. Nick Hardwick was the Chargers’ long-time center, but he played just 16 snaps this season, going down for the year week 1 with a serious neck injury that forced him to retire, ahead of age 34 season. In Hardwick’s absence, 4 different players started games at center for the Chargers and all 4 of them graded out below average. Best case scenario, Dunlap is re-signed, Fluker moves inside to guard, Watt moves to center, and they need to find two new starters at left guard and right tackle.
Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes were the starters at 3-4 defensive end for the Chargers last season. Both are going into their contract year in 2015 and Reyes has been horrible over the last 2 seasons anyway. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst 3-4 defensive end in both 2013 and 2014. Top reserve Ricardo Mathews is a free agent this off-season as well.
The Chargers had arguably the worst cornerbacks in the NFL in 2013, so they spent their first round pick on Jason Verrett and signed Brandon Flowers from Kansas City. It worked out pretty well at the start of the season as both played very well, but then Verrett got hurt and their lack of depth showed. Shareece Wright, who was horrible as a starter in 2013, ended up having to play 853 snaps in 2014 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 105th ranked cornerback out of 108 eligible. Wright is a free agent this off-season anyway. Verrett will be back healthy in 2015, but Flowers was only signed to a one-year deal, so he’s a free agent again. If he’s not brought back, they’ll really need help at the position and, even if he is, depth will still be needed.
Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead were a solid running back duo in 2013, but both got hurt early in 2014, leaving undrafted rookie Branden Oliver to lead the team in carries. He flashed at times, but predictably struggled overall, rushing for 582 yards and 3 touchdowns on 160 carries, an average of just 3.64 YPC. As a result, the Chargers averaged 3.43 yards per carry this season, 31st in the NFL, only ahead of Arizona. Danny Woodhead will be back healthy in 2015, but he’s more of a passing down back than a starter. Donald Brown was brought in as insurance last off-season, but he couldn’t even see playing time ahead of Oliver, as he averaged a pathetic 2.62 yards per carry on 85 carries. He could easily be cut this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 3 million in 2015. Cutting him would save 1.92 million on the cap immediately. If the injury prone Mathews isn’t re-signed, they’ll have a big need at the position.
Melvin Ingram was a first round pick by the Chargers in 2012, but he’s largely been a disappointment. He’s graded out below average in two of three seasons, missed 19 games in 3 seasons with injuries, and maxed out at 518 snaps. He’ll be back in 2015, but that should be his contract year as I don’t expect the Chargers to pick up his 5th year option for 2016. Meanwhile, Jarret Johnson and Dwight Freeney are going into their age 34 and age 35 seasons respectively. The former is expected to be a cap casualty or consider retirement, while the latter is a free agent who could also consider retirement. If neither of those two are back in 2015, that would leave the Chargers with Ingram and Jerry Attachou, a 2014 2nd round pick who played 182 snaps as a rookie, at the position. Attachou should have a bigger role in 2015, but depth would obviously be needed in that situation.
Malcom Floyd, Keenan Allen, and Eddie Royal were the Chargers’ top 3 receivers last year, but Floyd is going into his age 34 season and last year was just the 2nd season of his career where he played all 16 games. He’s missed 28 games over the past 7 seasons combined. On top of that, Eddie Royal is a free agent. The Chargers like Dontrelle Inman, a CFL import who flashed down the stretch last season, but the mere 123 snaps he played last season was the first NFL action of his career so he’s incredibly unproven.
Marcus Gilchrist has started all 32 games at safety for the Chargers over the past 2 seasons combined and he’s done a decent job, but he’s a free agent this off-season. The Chargers don’t have a good internal replacement, so if he isn’t re-signed, he’ll need to be replaced.
Key Free Agents
CB Brandon Flowers
Brandon Flowers was a top-9 cornerback on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2009 to 2012, the only cornerback in the NFL who could say that, but he fell all the way to 85th in 2013, weirdly the only season he went to the Pro-Bowl. Instead of giving him a chance to bounce back in 2014, the Chiefs cut Flowers last off-season, which turned out to be a big mistake, as Flowers bounced back all the way to 15th and with divisional rival San Diego no less. Flowers now hits free agency for the 2nd time in as many off-seasons, but he should get much more than the one-year prove it deal he got last off-season. Only going into his age 29 season, Flowers is one of the best, if not the best cornerback available on the open market this off-season.
RB Ryan Mathews
Matthews has talent, but injuries are a serious issue, as he’s missed 20 games in 5 seasons in the league since the Chargers made him the 12th overall pick in 2010. Mathews rushed for 678 yards and 7 touchdowns on 158 carries (4.29 YPC) in 12 games as a rookie and looked primed to become one of the better backs in the NFL after a strong 2011 season that saw him rush for 1091 yards and 6 touchdowns on 222 carries (4.91 YPC). He also had 50 catches that season. However, Mathews did not live up to the expectations in 2012, missing another 4 games, seeing just 184 carries and being limited to 3.84 YPC when on the field. Mathews finally put it all together in 2013, rushing for 1255 yards and 6 touchdowns on 285 carries, an average of 4.40 YPC (though he only caught 29 passes, significantly fewer than the 50 he caught in 2011). Unfortunately, he did that only to miss 10 games with injury the following season, rushing for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns on 74 attempts, an average of 4.46 YPC. Mathews likely isn’t going to become more durable as he goes into his age 28 season so, while he’s talented, any team that signs him needs to have a good insurance policy.
OT King Dunlap
King Dunlap, a 2008 7th round pick, made a career high 12 starts with the Eagles in 2012, after making just 6 starts in his first 4 seasons combined. He graded out above average, but only got a 2-year, 3.7 million dollar deal in free agency the following off-season, signing in San Diego. Dunlap won the starting job in San Diego and more than lived up to his contract, making 27 starts in 2 seasons (all at left tackle) and grading out above average in both seasons, including 6th in 2013. Dunlap is going into his age 30 season in 2015, but still should get starter’s money on the open market, if the Chargers don’t reach an agreement to bring him back before then.
OLB Dwight Freeney
Dwight Freeney bounced back from a 2013 season where he missed 12 games with injury. In 2014, he played all 16 games, making 9 starts, playing 590 snaps, and grading out above average, as he’s done in every season of Pro Football Focus’ history, since 2007. The issue is Freeney is now going into his age 35 season so he’s near the end of the line. He should still get starting caliber money this off-season, but I don’t expect him to get any guaranteed money beyond 2015.
WR Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns as a 2nd round rookie in 2008, but combined for just 138 catches for 1361 yards and 5 touchdowns from 2009-2012 combined. Royal bounced back over the past 2 seasons though, catching 47 passes for 631 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2013 and 62 catches for 778 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2014, grading out above average in both seasons. Royal should get a decent amount of money on his next contract to be someone’s #2 or #3 wide receiver.
S Marcus Gilchrist
Marcus Gilchrist was a 2nd round pick of the Chargers’ in 2011. He struggled in his first 2 seasons in the league at cornerback, but was moved to safety in 2013 and ended up making all 16 starts and grading out 20th at his position. Gilchrist graded out below average in 2014, but he wasn’t terrible, he made all 16 starts again, and I still expect him to get starting caliber money this off-season. He won’t break anyone’s bank though.
CB Shareece Wright
The Chargers took Shareece Wright in the 3rd round in 2011 and he played sparingly in his first 2 seasons in the league, playing a combined 124 snaps. Wright got a bigger role over the past 2 seasons, but he’s been a trainwreck. In 2013, he was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible. Going into 2014, the Chargers brought in Jason Verrett in the first round of the draft and Brandon Flowers through free agency to send Wright to a #3 cornerback role, but an injury to Verrett forced Wright to play 853 snaps and make 14 starts. He once again struggled, grading out 105th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. He won’t get much on the open market as he’s only a depth cornerback at best.
Cap Casualty Candidates
OLB Jarret Johnson
The Chargers signed Jarret Johnson to a 4-year, 19 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, but he was only a part-time player with the Chargers, specializing in stopping the run off the edge in base packages, maxing out at 556 snaps. Now he’s going into his age 34 season, owed a non-guaranteed 5 million, an amount the Chargers can save on the cap immediately by releasing him ahead of his contract year. He’s been a solid player for a long-time, but he graded out below average last season and in two of his last three seasons and isn’t worth his salary. Close to the end of the line, Johnson reportedly will consider retirement this off-season.
RB Donald Brown
The Chargers signed Donald Brown to a 3-year, 10.5 million dollar deal last off-season and it was a weird deal. That was the highest average salary a running back got on the open market last off-season and the Chargers didn’t appear to have a huge need at the position with Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead in the fold. Well, Matthews and Woodhead both got hurt in 2014, opening up an opportunity for Brown, but he only rushed for 223 yards on 85 carries (2.62 yards per carry). Even with Matthews heading to free agency, Brown could be released this off-season, a move that would save 3 million in cash and 1.92 million immediately on the cap. A first round pick bust of the Colts’ in 2009, Brown has never topped 134 carries in a season, has a 4.09 career YPC average, and is useless on passing downs.
TE John Phillips
Phillips is a decent player, but he only played 202 snaps last season as the 3rd tight end behind Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Both Gates and Green will be back in 2015, so there isn’t a need to pay Phillips 1.45 million non-guaranteed. The Chargers would save that entire amount on the cap by cutting him.
G Chad Rinehart
Rinehart started 16 games in 2014 for the Chargers at left guard, but, as I mentioned earlier, he was a disaster, grading out 73rd out of 78 eligible guards. Rinehart signed a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season after grading out below average in 2013 and the Chargers can save 3.25 million in cash and cap space by letting him go this off-season. Rinehart hasn’t been the same since a significant ankle injury he suffered in 2012 with the Bills.