I'll admit, it's was not easy watching cornerback after cornerback fly off the market for less than the Chargers paid for a number three running back, but I can see where the front office is going with this. First of all, the Chargers focused on keeping their own players, which should always be the number one priority for teams come free agency. They kept starters Donald Butler and Chad Rinehart, as well as key depth/special teams players like Darrell Stuckey, Reggie Walker, and Seyi Ajirotutu. The best way to build a team is to draft your own talent, keep them, and repeat. We can look at the Vincent Jackson/Robert Meachem incident of a few years back to look at what happens when you rush out to fill a hole left by a departing starter.
Anyway, back to Donald Brown. As I pointed out in a previous piece, the Chargers offense changed at the end of the season, using the old-school approach of pounding the rock to set up the pass, as well as keeping the ugly defense off the field. They won their final 4 games of the regular season, as well as the postseason contest in Cincinnati before falling short in Denver. Ryan Mathews, who reportedly played through the dreaded high ankle sprain, was unable to play more than a handful of snaps in the final game vs. the Broncos. Without him, the Chargers failed to run the ball, putting the offense and defense in unfavorable situations. Mathews' workload increased dramatically in the offensive overhaul, and backup Danny Woodhead does not offer much in the sense of power. Donald Brown will serve as relief to Mathew's workload as well as injury insurance.
Also, with both Mathews and Woodhead becoming free agents after the 2014 season, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a three down running back on the roster for the next three years.
The Curious Case of Jeromey Clary
Out of all the offseason moves to be made, I was certain that releasing Jeromey Clary would be first on the list. The move would free up about $4.5 million of cap space, and as I type this the Chargers currently sit at about $3.6 million under the cap. I understand that Clary is praised for his "versatility", but the fact of the matter is that he is not very good at either position he plays.
Last season, Clary ranked 58th out of 60 guards in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus. If San Diego wants to continue building on the strength of the ground game, replacing Clary is a must. Johnnie Troutman struggled at times in what was essentially his rookie season, but by the time the regular season rolls around he should be ready. They could also find a better version of Clary on the second day of the draft if they wanted to.
Eddie Royal, Jarret Johnson, and Dwight Freeney all took a pay cut to stay with the team in 2014, but Clary's $6 million dollar salary remains? Mr. Telesco still has time to move on from the veteran lineman, and he would be wise to do so.
It's important to note here that a team's "needs" are not restricted to holes on the roster. Cornerback is obviously the biggest hole on the Chargers, but Telesco is not going to limit his first round options to just a CB.
The biggest mistake a general manager an make when drafting is to surpass superior talent to fill a current need. You have to project a year or two into the future to really see what the team needs. Wide receiver, for example, does not look like a glaring need, but it really is. A lot of teams would be lucky to have Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal (or Malcom Floyd, depending on his ability to return) as their top two receivers. However, Royal will be a free agent after the next season and was plagued with nagging injuries all season long. Malcolm Floyd is 32 years old and may never come back from his neck injury. The Chargers could really use speed at wide receiver for current depth and as a future starter.
When you first think about it, it doesn't make sense to pass on a potential starting cornerback for a receiver that might be third or fourth on the depth chart. However, how much difference will a first rounder make compared to a second or third rounder on an otherwise awful (or unproven) group of corners? Anything is an upgrade at this point, and with a very deep draft at the position, there is no reason to rush to grab one. It can also hurt a player's development if they are forced to do more than they can handle early in their career. The fact of the matter is that the Bolts will get more out of a wide receiver catching passes from Philip Rivers than a corner on a talent-deprived secondary (save Mr. Weddle). If the Chargers think that a cornerback is the best player on the board, then they will take them. If they feel like they can get more out of a player long-term, then they will certainly go in that direction.
Rebuilding the defense is going to take more than just one rookie. They need to fill in depth throughout the draft, but don't be surprised if the Bolts go offense in round one. Guard is also a huge need, whether Clary is on the roster or not. San Diego could also be looking at left tackles if the oft-injured King Dunlap continues to be injured often. Also, outside linebacker is a position of need with Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson both getting very long in the tooth.
Nose tackle is also an popular position to give the Chargers in mock drafts, but I don't see it. They like Sean Lissemore, and play enough snaps without a NT on the field to justify waiting until late in the draft to find one.
To summarize, I see the top holes on the roster at cornerback, and guard. Down the road, wide receiver and outside linebacker become fairly huge needs. Value is most important when it comes to selecting a player, and I could see the Bolts addressing any of these needs at any time in the draft. As long as they select the best player available (at a position of reasonable need, either now or in the near future), the roster will fill itself out.