The third team from the AFC West to qualify for the 2013 playoffs, the Chargers slipped in with an overtime win in Week 17 against a Chiefs team resting many of their starters. That fortunate entry set the stage for a well-earned first round victory in Cincinnati a week later but San Diego would be bumped in the divisional round by the AFC Champs-to-be Broncos.
The late-season push that got them in position for the splash at the end was an encouraging sign for a team that showed promise but wavered to a 4-6 start. First-year Head Coach Mike McCoy and new Offensive Coordinator Ken Wisenhunt helped breathe life back into the Charger lineup that had appeared to be running on empty prior to their arrival.
With Philip Rivers rejuvenated, a flashy rookie receiver fitting in, and solutions found at both ends of the O-line, there should be more good to come. The defense, on the other hand is littered with holes and in serious need of attention this offseason. Here’s a look at the current state of the Chargers’ lineup with UFAs removed:
– Player markers are colored per class on a six-step ‘Poor’ to ‘High Quality’ scale based on their overall performance and the league’s elite are marked separately in blue.
– Colored outlines suggest a potential change in class.
– Underlined players will be 30+ years old for the 2014 season.
– Red player names suggest injury risks.
– Click on the image to enlarge.
– That lone blue square in the back of the defense stands out as much on this chart as it does when watching the Chargers play. Weddle is a superior piece that could anchor any D, but help is needed at all three levels around him and the secondary, in particular, could use some upgrades.
– With just a hint of green given to Corey Liuget, the front-seven is short any kind of impact presence. Manti Te’o’s lacking effort as a rookie run defender was paired with free agent Donald Butler’s inconsistent red-across-the-board play and after losing Dwight Freeney just 173 snaps into the year, the outside offered nothing of a pass rush. In front of them, any positives Liuget showed were washed by the heaping negatives contributed by Kendall Reyes on the other side.
– The additons of King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker have to give hope that this O-line has come to firmer ground. There are still issues to deal with, most notably Jeromey Clary’s spot at right guard, but having the edges cemented in is a huge step in the right direction.
– If — a big ‘if’ — Malcom Floyd is able to return from his neck injury to take position opposite the remarkable rookie Allen, the receiving corps could be rounded out. With the clock ticking for still-effective Antonio Gates and youngster Ladarius Green readying for an increased role, Rivers’ set of weapons could hit a sweet spot where all are clicking before the next transition.
2014 Cap Situation
This is where things get sticky. With so much work to be done in shoring up the defense, some of it will have to be from bringing in free agent talent – it would be a lot to ask to solve so many problems so quickly via the draft. San Diego is currently over the cap by $800k (per, appropriately, overthecap.com) and will have to do some trimming to create room for luring upgrades.
The balance to their cap space worry is the potential to gain back large chunks through a few sensible releases. Getting back to Clary, the $4.5M in cap savings he represents when compared to his 79th-ranked (of 81 qualifying guards) -19.8 run-blocking grade in 2013 makes it a fairly simple call – the only larger savings on the roster would come from letting either Rivers or Weddle go. There are others, though, as Eddie Royal, Nick Hardwick, Freeney, Gates, Jarrett Johnson, and Le’Ron McClain could each offer $2M+ of relief (Royal and Hardwick $4M+). Some combination of cuts and/or restructures from that group would create the space needed.
Opportunities from the Roster
Nose tackle Kwame Geathers showed some promise in 87 preseason snaps and might end up with a shot at assuming the anchor position with Cam Thomas a free agent. Mentioned before, but it’s tough not to be intrigued by what Ladarius Green could bring to the table as the heir apparent at tight end. A huge increase in snaps in the second half of 2013 still saw him spending the majority of his time blocking, but he could wind up as the seam threat easing the load on the future Hall of Famer ahead of him on the depth chart. Undrafted rookie safety Jahleel Addae finished with over 500 snaps logged in 2013 including a five-game run at the end (Week 15 through the playoffs) where he averaged 55 per game and posted an overall grade of +6.1 (+4.5 in coverage). Should he blossom into a legit option to pair with Weddle, one defensive worry may be erased with an in-house answer.
Projected lineups by team:
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