2014 Team Needs: San Diego Chargers
On the eve of the 2014 free agency period, Cole Schultz has a look into San Diego's most pressing needs.
2014 Team Needs: San Diego Chargers
A divisional round defeat will linger on as a missed opportunity, but the Chargers’ season up until that point has to be considered a success. After squeaking into the playoffs thanks to a four-game winning streak to end the season, San Diego handed Cincinnati an embarrassing home loss before being taken down by the Broncos a week later. At any rate, the offense was phenomenal, and Philip Rivers seemed to have gotten out of the funk he’s been in the last few years.
But 9-7 doesn’t often grant you a playoff spot, so the Chargers must improve if they want to compete again in 2014. While the offense clicked, the defense gave up 20 or more points in all but five of their regular season games. Rivers and company may be able to mask that to an extent, but Mike McCoy would rather have a more balanced team in his second year as head coach. General Manager Tom Telesco has already done well re-signing Donald Butler, who, despite a down year, has shown himself a capable starter in the past. The inside linebacker need has been filled, but there’s still work to be done, especially on defense.
Potential Cap Casualties
With a shade over $5 million in cap room even after the massive cap hike, the Chargers may look to cut some of their more overpaid players in an effort to get some value out of what little space they do have. They aren’t in the best of spots to increase this space either, as there are only a handful of players they see meaningful savings by cutting without leaving a massive roster hole.
– Like many others, the Chargers have already started their offseason cuts, with fullback Le’Ron McClain and his $3+ million 2014 cap hit gone. Also gone is cornerback Derek Cox and his team-low -14.6 coverage grade.
– Jettisoning off the largely ineffective Jeromey Clary is an option as well, with $4.5 million in savings to be had. While cutting Clary would leave a hole at right guard, it shouldn’t be very difficult to find someone to fill in at a much more reasonable price.
– With the emergence of Keenen Allen and the expected return of the injured Malcolm Floyd, Eddie Royal and his $4.5 million salary become a luxury that might just be too rich for the cash-strapped Chargers.
Easily the weakest spot on the roster, San Diego pulled off the rare feat of having four different cornerbacks on achieve a coverage grade below -10.0. Cox has already been cut, Johnny Patrick has been waived and claimed by the Jets, and San Diego will be looking for any way to keep Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright off the field. Behind them it’s just a handful of young guys with little to no career playing time.
Free agent fix: Luckily for the Chargers, their position of weakness is complemented by a strong free agent class. They may not be able to afford the big money free agents like Aquib Talib or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but the dearth of talent at the top of the class should lower the price on those in the lower tiers. With five young and talented corners at the top of everyone’s wish list, it may not be too hard to land a guy like Tarell Brown or an aging Charles Tillman on a cheap, short-term deal. Tillman is on the wrong side of 30 and coming off an season-ending injury, but he has shown elite play in the past against some of the best receivers out there, which may be worth taking a flyer on, especially if the price is right. Meanwhile, Brown is the safer pick. He’s averaged over 1,000 snaps per season for the 49ers over the past three years, and in each one he has graded positively. At 29 years of age, Brown could easily come in and contribute for a few years at a much higher level than anything the Chargers saw a season ago.
Another sore spot on the Chargers’ defense last season, San Diego had trouble getting consistent play from its defensive linemen. Kendall Reyes graded negatively in every facet of play, while Corey Liuget got pushed around in the running game despite posting decent pass rushing numbers. Unlike the cornerback position, defensive linemen are subbed out much more frequently, making depth at this position all the more crucial.
Free agent fix: There isn’t quite the young, high-end talent like there is with corners, but that matters little to a team not looking to break the bank for their guy. With experience in the 3-4 and at 28 years of age, Arthur Jones would be an excellent fit to help clog up the running lanes. Not the splashiest player around, Jones nonetheless does his job and does it well- over the past two years, Jones has graded in the green 13 times compared to five in the red. Antonio Smith would give San Diego an additional interior pass rush, but it remains to be seen if the older Smith will keep up that level play as long as Jones can.
With the ILB spot taken care of thanks to Butler’s recent contract, we turn to the one spot on offense that could really use an upgrade. If Clary somehow makes the 2014 roster, he’ll easily be the biggest liability on that offensive line, although left guard Johnnie Troutman (-13.1 last season) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. San Diego hasn’t taken an interior lineman in any of the early rounds recently, so this appears to be a prime spot to grab someone in free agency.
Free agent fix: Again, with cap space being hard to come by, San Diego may look for an older player as a stopgap knowing that the premium for his services won’t be as high. Less than a year older than Clary, the Chargers may be able to sign Willie Colon with the potential savings from cutting Clary. He’s not the best run blocker around (still better than Clary), but he surrendered just 18 pressures (one sack, three hits, 14 hurries) in 580 pass blocking snaps last year. With the Jets’ offense sputtering last year, Colon will be out of the spotlight and may come cheap. You just have to hope that the 12 penalties he committed last year was an anomaly.