After the retirement of Kris Dielman yesterday, lots of San Diego Chargers fans are discussing the number of "holes" on the Bolts' roster heading into free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft. I wanted to get a clearer idea of exactly what we're looking at here.
I'm ignoring backup roles, because those are fairly easy to fill. We're focusing mainly on starting/important spots that will need to be addressed in the next couple of months, and we're not assuming that the Chargers are signing back any of their impending unrestricted free agents.
That "Complementary RB" position is very much a starting spot. The Chargers want Ryan Mathews to be splitting carries with someone to keep him fresh for the postseason and the rest of his career. The same goes for that TE2 spot, which is important because the Chargers run a lot of 2-TE sets and also because of Gates' injury history of late.
Dielman is gone. Marcus McNeill is under contract, but unless something drastic happens it looks like the Chargers are going to release him (or, rather, void his contract due to injury issues with Marcus' neck). Jared Gaither is a free agent, as is Nick Hardwick.
Open offensive starting/important spots: 7
Next up, the defense...
San Diego has already come out and said that they will be releasing longtime-Chargers Luis Castillo. Antonio Garay is a free agent. The team could go with Thomas and Martin as starters, but the front office will be out there looking for possible upgrades while also searching for possible backups. We'll say those spots are not open for right now.
Sure, it may be the most important open roster spot on the team this season, but it's just one roster spot. The Chargers need to find a way to improve their pass-rush dramatically, as it was the biggest reason for them being ranked last in the league in 3rd down defense, and adding a beast at ROLB seems like the fastest/easiest way to do that.
There's a chance that Darrell Stuckey lands that SS job, because it doesn't look like there will be much of a market for Strong Safeties in free agency or the upcoming draft. Expect the team to possibly use a mid-round draft pick on a Safety to compete with Stuckey in camp.
Open defensive starting/important spots: 1-3
So, there you have it. Somewhere between 8-10 really important roster spots that need to be filled in some way, most of them on the offense. Bringing back Gaither, Hardwick, Jacob Hester, maybe Vincent Jackson and maybe Randy McMichael would be a quick way to fill most of them.