This offseason we have squabbled quite a bit about the turnover that the Charger's roster is going through. Big name players with health concerns that may look to be past their prime are being let go, players who have not lived up to expectations both on and off the field have been removed, players with aspirations of bigger and better things in the NFL have been set free, and players seeking higher compensation have been out bid. Regardless of how we feel about these moves they have left some major holes in the Chargers roster and will have to be filled either through the draft or through free agency.
During the AJ Smith era, the Chargers have never been much of a player for big name free agents and with the lack of movement so far this past week (well at least from player acquisition standpoint) this year does not look to be much different. During AJ's first few years as GM the Chargers philosophy was to try to find undervalued veteran free agents who would be able to come in fill immediate holes on the roster at typically non-high dollar positions (OG, C, ILB, S). The Chargers would then use their high draft picks to fill any holes at the more high dollar positions (QB, Pass Rusher, CB, WR) and use their lower draft picks (or UFAs) to help supplement young depth behind the veteran free agents with the hope that they would eventually become starters. As time moved on the plan seemed to work with guys like Kris Dielman, Jeromey Clary, Stephen Cooper, Brandon Siler, ect... developing into starters and the focus on free agency shifted more towards signing veteran players to compete with younger players for starting positions and/or to add veteran depth to the roster.
I can't imagine the philosophy of the Charger's front office has changed much since AJ took over in 2003, and based on some of the things we have heard from the Chargers front office and some of the actions (or lack of action) we have seen so far this offseason I would imagine that the Chargers are going to stick with their tried and true method of using their top draft picks to fill their high dollar positions and use free agency to fill the rest of the gaps. On the other side of the jump I analyze the positions the Chargers need to fill this offseason and list some potential unrestricted free agents who may be good fits to fill them.
AJ has indicated several times that the Chargers plan to find their next starting running back via the draft, but with the recent departures of LT and Michael Bennett and the still somewhat uncertainty surrounding Darren Sproles, the Chargers may be looking to bring in a veteran running back to compete with Marcus Mason for the third sting (or possibly 2nd if Sproles is traded) running back spot. Below is a list of unrestricted free agent running backs that may interest the Chargers:
Brian Westbrook - If the Chargers do end up deciding to trade Sproles Westbrook may be an ok option to replace him. The main issue surrounding Westbrook is health, as a starter Westbrook never played a full 16 game season nor did he ever average more than 18.5 carries a game. However, Westbrook has always been a terror in the passing game and is the ideal back to run screens plays with (which Norv loves). If he Westbrook can pass a physical and is willing to sign a one year deal for moderate money I think he maybe a gamble worth taking.
Larry Johnson - Johnson at one point was one of the most productive backs in the NFL but a rash of injuries, contract disputes, holdouts and off the field issues have decimated his career. Johnson may be an interesting player to bring in for short yardage situations but I just don't see AJ willing to take on the baggage that will follow him and therefore think there is no way that Johnson will be in San Diego next season.
Jamal Lewis -Lewis looked to have revitalized his career in 2007 with the Browns gaining 1,300 yards and scoring 9 TDs, but unfortunately his production seen a steady decline since. Lewis eventually lost his starting job to Jerome Harrison last season and was released by the Browns last month. Lewis is a big back (5'11 245 lbs) and may garner some interest from the Chargers as a short yardage back but his off the field issues may raise a red flag with AJ, in the end I think it's rather unlikely that we will see Lewis in blue and gold in 2010.
Willie Parker - A rash of injuries starting in the 2008 season have turned "Fast" Willie Parker into "Undersized" Willie Parker. With a lack of top end speed Parkers days of a starting running back in the NFL look to be over. Parker has never been utilized much in the passing game (career high 31 receptions in 2006) but his career average yards pre-catch is respectable (8.3) and if he is used exclusively as a third down back his health may not be as much of a question. If the Chargers can get Parker to sign a one year deal and use him properly they may be able to catch lightning in a bottle with a dynamic third down weapon.
Kevin Faulk - I have to admit that I have always liked Kevin Faulk. Faulk is the quintessential third down back and has always delivered in big situations. Even at the age of 33 Faulk still produced last season for the Patriots averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 8.1 yards per reception. All signs point to Faulk re-signing with the Patriots and with Darren Spoles on the roster I don't think Faulk would have much interest in signing with the Bolts, but if the Chargers did decide to move Sproles I don't think they could find a better player to line-up behind Rivers on third down than Faulk. (Note: Faulk has re-signed with the Patriots)
Justin Fargas - There has been a lot of talk about Fargas on here since he was released by the Raiders last week. While I do think Fargas would be a good fit in San Diego I just don't see the Chargers having much interest in him for a couple of reasons: 1. His health, if it is true that he failed his physical with the Raiders than I really don't see him passing one with the Chargers 2. Off the field issues, last year Fargas let Yukmouth use his house to make a video (in which Fargas made a brief appearance) about how much marijuana he smokes. While this is not illegal it really does make you question his decision making abilities which we all know is an issue AJ has been trying to flush out this offseason.
Kevin Jones - Jones came out with a bang in his rookie (2004) gaining 1,133 yards and scoring 5 TDs but has failed to break even the 700 yard mark since. Jones is a bigger back (6' 228 lbs) and is best used in short yardage situations. Depending on what type of back the Chargers draft Jones could be a good addition to the roster as the Chargers third string back.
Blocking Tight End
With the departure of Manumaleuna the Chargers may be looking to sign a bigger blocking Tight End to help out the line in short yardage and goal line situations. It seems like the days of a blocking TE seem to be somewhat behind us, and there is really not too many guys out there who still fit that description but here is a guy that may interest the Bolts:
Michael Gaines 6'2/267 29 Years old - Gaines is a big TE who has bounced around a bit over his career (has played for 5 teams over 7 seasons). He is know predominantly for his blocking ability but can sneak out and catch a pass every once and awhile (83 career receptions average 10.3 yards per catch).
With the departure of Jamal Williams it looks the Chargers have a major hole to fill on the D-Line. 3-4 DTs are incredibly important to the success of the defense and very rare to come by. This is a hole that will most likely have to be filled via the draft because the free agency pickens are rather slim:
Shaun Smith 6'2/325 29 Years old (Note: Signed with the Chiefs)
Jimmy Kennedy 6'4/320 30 Years old
Both players are a bit small for the position and are really not much better alternatives than the players current on the Chargers roster.
It looks like the Chargers have found a good (not great) strong safety in Kevin Ellison. However, competition is never a bad thing and with a decent amount of talent in the free agent pool this offseason it couldn't hurt for the Chargers to bring in someone to challenge Ellison for his spot. Below is a potential list of UFA that could be brought in to challenge Ellison for his starting job:
Sean Jones 6'1/220 28 Years old - Jones played the majority of his career with the Browns (5 seasons) and singed a free agent deal last season with the Eagles. Brown is a great run stuffing SS but lacks the ability to track the ball in passing situations and in turn is a bit of a liability on passing downs.
Mark Roman 5'11/205 32 Years old - Roman has been a middle of the road type player over the past 9 years. He does not have many strengths but he also does not have many weaknesses. He is a bit undersized and is not the fastest player on the field but has good instincts and normally finds himself around the ball. If he can accept a backup role he would be a good mentor for Ellison and could provide depth at both the FS and SS positions.
Bryan Scott 6'1/219 28 Years old - Scott has been in a backup role since 2005 but has still been rather productive over the past 2 seasons (68 tackles in 08 and 81 tackles in 09). I don't think he would start off the bat over Ellison but he would be a pretty good plan B if Ellison's development hits a bump in the road. (Note: Re-signed with the Bills)
With the departure of Antonio Cromartie the starting corner job opposing Quinton Jammer looks like it is Antoine Cason's to lose. However, there is no one to really challenge him for the spot on the Charger's roster as it stands today. In an interview earlier this week AJ hinted that the Chargers were looking to bring in someone to challenge Cason for the starting job. Below are a couple of UFA that could be brought in to challenge Cason for his starting job:
Lito Sheppard 5'10/194 28 Years old - Sheppard played his first seven seasons in Philadelphia and signed a free agent deal with the Jets last offseason. Sheppard started on the opposite side of Darrelle Revis and was picked on by every QB they faced. Sheppard is good in coverage and can play both cornerback and nickelback. Sheppard will probably be looking for starters money and will most likely look to sign with a team where he will be the starter from day one, however, if no teams are willing to give him starter type money Sheppard would be a great pickup for the Chargers and a great plan B is Cason is not ready to be the starter.
Phillip Buchanon 5'11/186 29 Years old - Buchanon may be the best fit for this position, he has been a starter off and on over the entire span of his seven year career. Buchanon will be hungry and compete everyday with Cason for the starting job and would be able to step in if Cason shows that he is not yet ready to be a starter.