The San Diego Chargers offseason is here, so it's time to go over my rules again.
First, I believe it is pointless to talk about the NFL Draft before the NFL's free agency period begins. You can spend a month looking at LBs that the team could draft, and then they could sign a free agent LB and you've wasted your time.
Second, I believe you can use logic when it comes to targeting free agents. Should the Chargers go after Dez Bryant? Absolutely, but the Cowboys have already said that they'll be putting the franchise tag on him, so let's not spin our wheels. Let's find realistic options as we dive head first into how San Diego can use free agency to fix their biggest issue: The Offensive Line.
Chargers 2015 Cap Space
Now, I am eager to forget the massively disappointing season the Chargers just had and move on to trying to fix this team in the offseason. I think it's pretty obvious that the team's #1 need is a retooling of the offensive line, a group that was as bad this year as was the Chargers' secondary last year. So I want to start there and see how they could go about rebuilding this group through free agency. We'll get to other position groups in the next few days.
Max will be around sometime this week to lay out exactly how much cap space Tom Telesco will have to play with in free agency, but I'll give you a summary: It's a lot.
Here is a list of just some of cap hits from this past season that are not on the books for next year:
- Nick Hardwick - $6.15 million
- Eddie Royal - $5 million
- Dwight Freeney - $4 million
- Ryan Mathews - $3.6 million
- Jeromey Clary - $3.3 million
- Brandon Flowers - $3 million
- King Dunlap - $2.42 million
- Marcus Gilchrist - $1.25 million
- Jared Gaither - $4 million (dead money)
- Derek Cox - $3.9 million (dead money)
- Robert Meachem - $3.75 million (dead money)
- Larry English - $865k (dead money)
- Le'Ron McClain - $833k (dead money)
All told, it's more than $40 million of cap space coming off the books for the 2015 San Diego Chargers. Even with bumps in some of the contracts of current players, Spotrac has the team with $27.5 million in cap space heading into free agency.
Even if the team were to sign Brandon Flowers to the same ridiculous deal he had previously signed with the Chiefs, he still only counted for $3.47 million against the cap in the first year of that deal.
Even if the team were to sign Ryan Mathews to the same deal LeSean McCoy got from the Eagles in 2012 (5 years, $45 million), McCoy only counted for $2.77 million against the cap in the first year of the deal.
Joe Staley counted for $3.4 million against the 49ers cap this season and will count for $6.4 million against their cap next season, if you want an idea of what a top-flight left tackle gets paid.
Even at the top end of things, you're looking at somewhere around $13 million to bring those guys back, which would still leave Telesco with $15 million or so to play with and not much of it needed for the NFL Draft anymore. He could, legitimately, end up signing 4 or 5 big time free agents.
If we were to build a Chargers offensive line with just guys that are currently signed through next season, we'd end up with something like this:
LG Chad Rinehart
C Chris Watt
RG D.J. Fluker
That would leave the team with Johnnie Troutman as the backup OG (Rich Ohrnberger is a free agent).
You'll notice that I have Fluker as the RG instead of the RT. I know I may be in the minority here, but I can no longer think of the man as an Offensive Tackle. He has shown, time and time again, that he's not quick enough to handle pass rushers. It's led to a ton of sacks and a lot of false start penalties as he literally has to get off the line before the pass rusher to stand a chance at stopping him. That's not a Tackle. I know he's tall, but Fluker would be a monster of a right guard and would help the interior rushing attack quite a bit, so that's where I'm putting him.
So, the above picture leaves Tom Telesco trying to find at least two offensive tackles. He may also want to replace Rinehart, but leaving him there to fight with Troutman for that spot isn't the worst idea in the world.
Free Agent Targets
Step #1: Sign King Dunlap
I don't think this is unrealistic. The Chargers have the money to match any offer, King found his game in San Diego, and it's not as if there's a place with better weather or lifestyle that could lure him away. Short of a Mike Tolbert situation, where Dunlap turns down more money to play in his hometown, Dunlap is probably a lock to come back.
That being said, Dunlap's hometown is Nashville, TN. The Titans need help on the offensive line and there's familiarity with the system because Ken Whisenhunt is the Titans' head coach. They'll likely be in the conversation, but I don't think Telesco lets Dunlap walk.
Step #2: Find a Right Tackle
There are two options the team can take here.
They can go after a veteran and try to convince him to sign a short-term contract while they attempt to groom his replacement. In this scenario, the guy to target would be Titans LT Michael Roos. Roos is 32, which is old for an NFL tackle, but he played well in the first few games of this season before going down with a knee injury/surgery. There's plenty of reason to believe that he could fill in at RT for a year or two, and probably help Dunlap to improve his game along the way.
That option isn't sexy, but it's there.
The second option is sexy. Very sexy. The second option would be for the team to find a long-term solution at Right Tackle, to pair with the current long-term solutions at LT (Dunlap), C (Watt), and RG (Fluker). They could then let the young line grow together, which would be the same blueprint the team used in the past (McNeil, Dielman, Hardwick) and the same blueprint the Dallas Cowboys have used to turn their team around this past season.
So, who would this long-term option be? There's really only one really good option: Brian Bulaga.
Bryan Bulaga is the RT of the Green Bay Packers. Bulaga is 25 years old (and would still be 25 at the start of next season) and already has 48 starts under his belt. He missed half of 2012 and all of 2013 with injuries, but played without issue in 2014. According to PFF, Bulaga was the 4th best RT in the entire league this season, and he's especially good at pass protection (where he was the 2nd best RT).
Normally, a player like Bulaga would not be available. The Packers would simply slap the franchise tag on him to keep him from hitting the market because he's exactly the type of player you can build an offensive line around (the type of player that can win any one-on-one matchup). However, Green Bay has to first address how they're going to re-sign CB Tramon Williams and WR Randall Cobb, so Bulaga should be open to the highest bidder.
The New Line
This line is 100% possible for 2015. The Chargers have more than enough cap room to pull it off, with plenty left over for Brandon Flowers and other pieces, and it would immediately turn this position group from a weakness into a strength in front of Philip Rivers.
The team would still need to add a swing Tackle, as Willie Smith is also a free agent, but that can be done easily.
If I were Tom Telesco, here is the top of my offseason priority list heading into free agency:
- Brandon Flowers
- King Dunlap
- Brian Bulaga
The team's pursuit of Flowers shouldn't keep them from putting a full-court press on Bulaga either, considering San Diego can put the franchise tag on Flowers if negotiations don't work out.
So, what do you think? Do you like my idea? Do you like my 2015 Chargers offensive line? What would you do differently to try and improve that position group?