Part Two of my look at why this WILL be an exciting off season for us Charger fans will take a look at the Free Agents the Chargers should target. As I said in the first article, this is a make or break year for AJ Smith and he knows it. This leads me to believe, no matter how much he says his strategy this year will not change, that he will be willing to make some moves.
Our biggest positional needs (in no particular order) are:1)LG (due to the retiring of Dielman), 2)SS (Gregory doesn't cut it, we need an enforcer back there with Weddle), 3)OLB (Phillips was much better as "the other guy" we need to have a pass rushing duo again), 4)NT (while Garay is good, our defense sorely misses a "Jamal").
Some "nice to have's" would be 1)Slot WR (the quick reliable type like Welker, Cruz) and 2)a RT (Clary is good but gets beat consistently by speed rushers).
Out of these 6 positions we must fill at least 3 with starters via FA if the front office is serious about making it deep into the playoffs this season. Now onto the targets!
Vincent Jackson - Bring him back. He is our game changer and leaves another big hole that we do not need right now if he goes. He said he would take a little less to stay in SD with Rivers so make this happen.
LG - Carl Nicks is most likely going to be receiving the Franchise tag from the Saints so he is out. Ben Grubbs is the next best FA Guard however a report on profootballtalk.com today is reporting that he has rejected the Ravens first offer and is looking for big money and with the number of quality guards in the Draft the big FA money should be saved for another position. Therefore my vote is for Vernon Carey. He is the 7th ranked FA Guard on walterfootball.com and after Nicks and Grubbs is the highest ranked FA without a history of injuries. He was formerly a OT that has been moved inside. He is massive at 6'5 340. He has only missed 5 games in the last 7 seasons, and according to walterfootball.com, last season he only allowed 3 sacks and only drew 1 penalty. The downsides here is he will be 31 years old when the season starts and he is relatively new to playing G. However that is also an upside, most of his experience is at RT where we also have a need. He has never allowed more than 5.5 sacks in a season, while Clary has only allowed less than 5.5 in a season once. (Those last few stats were taken from profootballweekly.com).
SS - Tyvon Branch would be choice number 1. He is the consensus best young safety FA this off season. He is a tackling machine who is athletic, rangy, and a smart football player. He doesn't have a history of injury. He isn't a liability in coverage. He isn't a ball hawk but that's not why we would be signing him, Weddle is our ball hawk and he lead all Safeties (including Ed Reed) in INTs last season. The only thing is it is yet to be determined if the Raiders are going to let him go, their top UFA's this season are 1) Branch and 1a) Bush. What increases his likelyhood of hitting the open market are the reports coming in that the Raiders are already $20 Mil over the cap. (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/02/28/raiders-have-to-dump-plenty-of-salary/). The other option worth the money would be Michael Griffen from the Titans. Griffen is more of a FS/SS hybrid. He is better in coverage than Branch with much better INT and PD totals, but is not the tackling machine that Branch is. Griffen will come a little cheaper than Branch and is not that much older. I think that he we would do well signing either of them but if we don't get either of them then we need to make SS a priority in the early rounds of the draft. And for those of you who are thinking it, LaRon Landry is too much of an injury risk especially with the emphasis the front office is going to put on injury history when looking at players this off season.
OLB - Mario Williams will only be had at a King's ransom, but will be worth every penny. I have never been a big supporter of going after the huge money FA's but I am all for taking Mario. He would instantly give our defense a massive boost. He is a young game changer who is one of the best players in the NFL at getting to the QB and shutting down his side of the backfield. He has limited experience in a 3-4 but showed in the first few games last year he can play OLB in the 3-4, and when looking at our 3-4 a lot of our formations are almost a 4-3 anyway. After Vincent Jackson, he should be priority 1. After him Cliff Avril from the Lions is a great pass rusher, but in my opinion not worth the massive amounts of money he will be seeking because he isn't the complete player Williams is. If we don't sign Mario then Draft Priority number 1 needs to be improving the pass rush, either by drafting the top OLB available or by drafting Dontari Poe then a pass rushing OLB in the 2nd/3rd, since a "Jamal" type player like Poe makes all the LB's jobs a million times easier.
NT - Paul Soliai from the dolphins is the "Jamal Williams" type NT our defense has missed for a few years now. When you look at the numbers Garay produces much more in the way of tackles and sacks than Soliai. But Soliai's impact cant be reflected in those numbers. He eats blockers like a hungry hungry hippo eats those white plastic balls. He makes all the other in the box defenders better by lowering the number of offensive linemen they have to deal with. He will draw double and triple teams with his size (6'4 355) and strength. This will benefit our young ILBs Mouton and Butler by lowering the number of blockers they have to deal with, and it will help our DEs and OLBs on the outside by ensuring either 1 on 1 situations or leaving no blockers to deal with at all. If we don't at least re-sign Garay we need Soliai or we need sign Mario and draft Poe who is just as big and even more athletic. A NT who can do what they do allows us to get away with having less talented players on the outside and in the secondary by allowing us to put more pressure on the QB.
RT and Slot WR- Clary is good but we need a true starter at RT. He gives up too many sacks, draws too many flags, and is routinely beat by speed rushers. There isn't much in FA at RT. Demetrius Bell from Buffalo is only 28 and a pretty good tackle but has a history of knee issues. Jeff Backus (33) and Kareem Mckenzie (34) are both getting old and Jeff Backus was worse than Clary in both sacks and penalties last season. Depth is always nice but this is most likely a position that will be addressed in the Draft with so many quality RT prospects and OGs, who project to be able to move to RT, available in the first few rounds. As for Slot WR, with all our other big holes this is kind of a luxury fill. If we re-sign Jackson our starting three at WR will be Jackson, Floyd and Brown which is pretty dang good esp with Gates at TE. But if we can grab a quick, dual threat guy like Eddie Royal for not too much money I think that would improve our team.
Next up: Draft Board for all 7 rounds, including projecting Comp picks and a possible trade down.