As most of us already know, 9 players currently on the roster may or may not be in San Diego next season. Wandering through our minds and the minds of the coaching staff is the same question: Who should be kept at all reasonable costs? Most of the players have significant value to the team and would require sacrifice to let them go.
This post will focus on the defensive players first. If you don't already know, they are Safety Eric Weddle, OLB and pass rush specialist Antwan Barnes, ILB Brandon Siler, OLB Antwan Applewhite, CB Dante Hughes, and Safety Paul Oliver. Let's examine their impact on the team and their relative value on the field to determine who is likely to remain a Charger and who may not be back next season.
We'll start with the most important players, so here is Eric Weddle.
Eric Weddle is one of the top safeties in the game. He plays the field with exceptional vision, great tackling skills, smart reads, and strong coverage. When it comes to fundamental skills, he has them all and isn't weak in any specific category. Now, that's not to say he has no weaknesses. Weddle is a bit undersized, so he has had bad moments against larger receivers and tight ends. He also has an issue with dropping interceptions. Winning the turnover battle has a direct effect on winning the game, and Weddle is not a top safety in this aspect, however it isn't something we can't look over as room for improvement. That being said, Weddle needs to be kept, even if another team is willing to give up a first round pick for him. Weddle could very well get a 7 year $40 million contract, or, a more AJ Smith like contract of 5 years and $30 million. In any case, he is nearly impossible to replace and although he has said he would leave if a contract offer isn't to his liking, Weddle could and should be a Charger for a long time.
Brandon Siler has an interesting situation. He plays extremely well the few times he's on the field, but because of Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett, he doesn't get many opportunities. When he does, he makes the most of them. Siler plays very hard and with great instincts. He's solid in coverage, and has pass rushing capabilities. Not to mention a reputation for goal line magic, as the Cowboys, Broncos, Seahawks and 49ers will attest to. Purely from a depth standpoint, Siler is necessary and should be kept. Donald Butler isn't enough at ILB, so keeping Siler is a positive move. Why he wasn't tendered higher, we may never know. Maybe AJ Smith sees him like Jyles Tucker. He showed great pass rush ability that week 17 against Oakland a few seasons ago, and nothing else after his big contract. Brandon Siler may be tempting to keep, but it might take another year to see what he can do with more snaps. If the draft doesn't bring in a good ILB prospect, Siler could and should be offered a 4 or 5 year contract. He has too much potential to be sent off to another team.
Antwan Barnes spent more time as a 3rd down pass rush specialist, and occasionally as a spell OLB. He made the most of his limited opportunities, creating much needed pressure on opposing quarterbacks and being a solid contributor on Special teams. If the draft brings in a DE/OLB in the first or second round, Barnes may be given a small contract offer as a potential need may be filled with a rookie. Beyond Shaun Phillips, there is no clear answer at the opposite OLB spot. Larry English has yet to prove anything, and Antwan Applewhite will be mentioned next. Depending on what rookies come in, Barnes may just be given a 2 or 3 year contract. He does have good value, and keeping him has much more upside than we think. He provides a good backup option, and needed depth.
Antwan Applewhite is a back-up quality player that starts due to need. He isn't a very good pass rusher and is average at best against the run. However, he is solid in coverage and provides depth at a needy position. Outperformed at his position, he can be seen as expendable. However, he is versatile and cheap to keep on the roster. With the possibility of 2 more OLB's being drafted, Applewhite may not stay a Charger. AJ Smith would give up on him before he gives up on Larry English, so depending on what happens to Antwan Barnes, this Antwan may not have a future with the Chargers.
Dante Hughes played in many nickel packages and was actually quite solid in coverage, and even in blitzing. He plays smart and he isn't a liability. Despite limited playing time, Hughes looks like he can be a solid contributor on the defense. If no more than one DB gets drafted, expect Hughes to stay on the team. He offers depth, and good play at a low cost to the team.
Paul Oliver was drafted to be a potential starter. His development, while a bit slow, has been steady. He plays well in coverage, though a bit weak against the run. By no means is he a liability, however. Oliver is a strong back up who can play either safety spot, and is great in cover 3, which is useful in the 4th quarter. His value for depth has somewhat been reduced now that Bob Sanders is on the team. Darrell Stuckey and Steve Gregory will both fight for the 3rd safety spot and Oliver may see himself out the door. If Stuckey can develop this offseason, Paul Oliver may not be a Charger next year, especially if Gregory remains on the team as well.