San Diego Chargers: Remaining Options at Left Tackle

Stephen Dunn

With news of Bryant Mckinnie re-signing with the Ravens, we take a look at some available options the San Diego Chargers have to replace Jared Gaither at Left Tackle.

After a few days of wining and dining with the talking heads of the Chargers, Bryant Mckinnie weighed his options, played the game like a true veteran, and signed a 2-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens. So, now what? Panic? With General Manager Tom Telesco making a strong push to sign Mckinnie, one would think the Chargers aren't so confident in newcomer King Dunlap to be the team's starting Left Tackle. Let's take a look at some options the Chargers have moving forward.

King Dunlap?

If you let Philly fans influence you, you're probably under the assumption Dunlap won't be much of an upgrade to Philip Rivers' blindside. That's not all that accurate, or fair. Yes, Dunlap was pressed into starting at left tackle when All-Pro lineman Jason Peters went down with an Achilles injury that lost him for the season. The Eagles line as a whole was a mess. If you thought Rivers was under pressure a lot last year, compare that to the 217 quarterback hits and hurries the Eagles gave up. The Chargers gave up 175 hits and hurries.

Dunlap deserves what the American justice system calls for, "innocent until proven guilty." Of those hits and hurries, Dunlap gave up the second fewest on the team, at 22. The Chargers all star trio of Jared Gaither, Mike Harris, and Kevin Haslam combined for a total of 63 hits and hurries last year. For those that value sacks, Dunlap gave up 5, while our trifecta gave up 17. Dunlap played along a lousy line, too. He also blocked for a mobile quarterback which is very hard to do because you literally have no idea where they're going to be. Both Nick Foles and Michael Vick tend to hold on to the ball for longer than they should have, which causes the casual fan to think that the lineman are not doing their job, but that's not the case.

Judging by the Arizona Cardinals' 2012 offense, I look for the Chargers to implement a passing offense focused on Philip Rivers getting the ball out of his hands quickly. I don't think it will be a West Coast offense, but we're not going to see the return of the Dan Fouts days in the Air Coryell offense. Dunlap's strength is his pass blocking, and knowing where the quarterback will be will make life easier on him. Dunlap's two worst games happened to be nationally televised, so his season as a whole was blown out of proportion. He had some really good games against some really good pass rushers, which is something I can't say the same for the left tackles on the Chargers last year. He'll be an upgrade to the position and a vital part of the offense.

Free Agent Options

Jared Gaither

Sick joke, I know. I'd be surprised if he's playing football this year after the stunt(s) he pulled last year in San Diego. However, as we found out the hard way, teams sometimes get desperate enough to take chances on guys like Gaither.

Max Starks

This would be another desperation move, in my opinion. Starks hasn't been the same player since the Steelers won the Super Bowl in '09. Starks was a free agent the last 2 years heading into camp.The Steelers brought him back after rookie tackle Mike Adams showed he wasn't ready to be a starter in preseason. In '11 he suffered a season ending ACL injury.

As for his play, Starks, 31, he was consistent. He played the most snaps of any Steeler lineman but, as we saw in week 14 when Corey Liuget and Melvin Ingram gave him all he could handle, Starks is not what he used to be. A year away from the ACL injury might suit him well, but he's also a year older and would be another stop gap player at this point.

Demetress Bell

Yay, another Philadelphia backup!

Better known as "Mattress" Bell by the grateful fans of Philadelphia, Bell was benched before the season even started, and benched again midway through the season for good. He signed a 5 year, $34.5 million contract in 2012, and was released after just one year. Just like Dunlap, Bell also had a disastrous game on national TV. Actually, he was worse than Dunlap.

Bell does have familiarity with Coach Joe-D, having played with Buffalo from '08-11. To his credit, last year was his first time in a new scheme under offensive line guru Howard Mudd. Bell said Mudd and the Eagles employ a different approach.

"Most offensive line coaches teach the "vertical step," in which a tackle takes a backward step to cut off the pass rusher. Mudd abhors the vertical step, and teaches lineman to "attack." It's aggressive, it's nothing like I've been taught my first four years in the league. It's totally opposite, but I like it. I think it works in my favor, being athletic."

- Demetress Bell on Mudd's approach

Well, I guess it didn't work out so well. However, Bell is 28 and an option.

That's pretty much the only two free agent options. Slim pickings. I use slim rather loosely. Max Starks is 6'8, 355 and Bell is 6'5, 311. Nonetheless, at this point, signing a Left Tackle wouldn't be much of an upgrade.

Trade Options

Branden Albert

A really good 28 year old left tackle who, after signing his tender, is guaranteed to make 9.8 million this year. Add in the long term deal that he wants and he's not going to be cheap, which is why the Chiefs are only asking for a second round pick in return. Albert wants to be paid around $9 million annually and at this point, especially if we want to keep budding star Donald Butler around, that's not going to happen in San Diego.

Would Albert be an upgrade for the Chargers? Absolutely. He's one of the better Tackles in football. However, he did miss 3 games due to a back injury in 2012 and his commanding salary is just too high at this time.

Eugene Monroe

Arguably one of the better Tackles in all of football the last two years. He's been consistent and unheralded.

With Jacksonville selecting Luke Joeckel 2nd overall in this year's draft, there has been much talk from Chargers fans about trading for Monroe, who is heading into his final year of his rookie contract. While in theory the Chargers could probably trade for him now for a 1st or a 2nd round pick (his value his higher than Albert's, he's younger, healthier, and more talented) and then extend him at some point during the 2013 season, it's not that simple. Monroe is going to cash in BIG when he signs his extension. His contract will probably be more than Jake Long's 4 year, $34 million deal.

It probably makes more sense to play with Dunlap for a year and address LT in next year's draft (which will even more loaded than this year's) and allow the rookie wage scale to benefit the Chargers, instead of handicapping your entire teams cap for a Left Tackle.

What to do?

Those are our options. Some might mention Rams tackle Rodger Saffold, but he has reported to the Rams offseason workouts and is no longer disputing his positional move with the team. At this point in time, it makes the most sense to stick it out with Dunlap, and wait another year to address Left Tackle in the draft. There will be at least 2 franchise quarterbacks in the top 10 of the 2014 NFL Draft, as well as more skill players, so a run on offensive lineman like we saw this year probably won't happen again.

Should the Chargers sign a journeymen tackle, or trade and overpay for a proven Tackle? For me, the answer is neither. The salary cap isn't our friend right now, and Dunlap hasn't even had the chance to prove he's not worth it. He's our guy in 2013. He's innocent until proven guilty.

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