Yesterday, despite the San Diego Chargers not using their franchise tag, the NFL set a record when 21 other teams used their franchise tags. Many responded by saying that free agency was now going to be more difficult than ever for San Diego to compete in, with most of the good impending-free agents tagged and staying with their teams.
Let's take a look at what guys are left after yesterday that the Chargers would be interested in:
- Jared Gaither, OT - He obviously liked working with Hal Hunter and the rest of the Chargers coaching staff last year, and that helps but, as the best free agent Tackle, he'll hear some other offers as well.
- Nick Hardwick, OC - The fact that the Chargers didn't even think about franchising Hardwick tells me that they're certain that both sides can work out a deal. There's really no other free agent Centers that fit the Chargers system.
- Carl Nicks, OG - Nicks has been one of the league's best Guards for a few years now, playing with the New Orleans Saints, and is still only 27 years old. He wants to be the league's top-paid interior offensive lineman and he probably will be. Probably out of the Chargers price range, but worth a phone call.
- Ben Grubbs, OG - A key to the Ravens' strong running game the last few years, Grubbs will probably wait to see what Nicks signs for and ask for some just below that. Either of these guys would ensure a continuation of high performance from the LG spot on the Chargers' o-line.
- Vincent Jackson - Obviously the Chargers' #1 target as far as WRs go, but he's also the #1 target of other teams in need of a WR. The Chicago Bears have already openly expressed interest.
- Reggie Wayne - A little older, a little cheaper, but probably capable of being the #1 wide receiver for the Chargers.
- Brandon Lloyd - Also a little older, but without Wayne's long history of good play. Lloyd has had two good seasons after being plucked out of semi-retirement by Josh McDaniels.
- Mario Williams, DE/OLB - Rated at the #1 available free agent, and he's only available because the Houston Texans don't have the cap space to franchise him. He'll demand a huge contract, but also wants to go to a winning franchise. Should be the Chargers' #1 target.
- John Abraham, DE - Has never played OLB and is on the wrong side of 30. Would be a cheaper option than Williams, but would also be a bit riskier in terms of coverage and the length of his contract.
- Paul Soliai, NT - Probably out of the Chargers' price range, but they could take a run at him if Williams and Abraham sign elsewhere.
- Antonio Garay, NT - Antonio probably owes at least part of his career to Chargers' Defensive Line Coach Don Johnson, and will probably stay with him in San Diego unless he gets bowled over by an offer from another team.
- Cortland Finnegan - The class of the CBs is one of the best man-to-man corners in the league. He'll get a lot of money somewhere and will help someone's secondary greatly.
- Brandon Carr - The former Chiefs CB was rather inconsistent in 2011, but definitely has the size, speed and skills to be a shutdown corner.
So, there you have it. Plenty of good unrestricted free agents left for the Chargers to use their cap room on. I think the retirement of Kris Dielman, the impending release of Marcus McNeill, the release of Luis Castillo and letting Vincent Jackson walk points to the team going hard after Mario Williams.
The team will end up close to the salary cap, as always, and will need to spent $20-30 million this season to get there. With the rookie wage scale the way it is, the only way to do that is to be big players in free agency. The Bolts are pushing their chips to the center of the table, they're going to add a premier free agent (or 2), and then try to fill the remaining holes through the NFL draft.