General Manager Tom Telesco and Coach Mike McCoy are heading in to their ever-important third season with the Chargers. Coming off a disappointing season without a playoff berth and with money to spend, this should be a fun one to watch.
The Big Free Agents
The Bolts have plenty of role players who are free agents that I'm sure they would like to re-sign, but there are only two that the Chargers front office must keep to avoid taking a step back next season.
The first one is King Dunlap, who John Gennaro touched on earlier. Essentially, Dunlap was the team's only consistently good offensive lineman in 2014. A team with at the very least 2 holes on the offensive line cannot afford to let their left tackle slip away.
On the other side of the ball, Brandon Flowers is just as important. Jason Verrett was one of the best corners in the league last year when healthy, and not just for a rookie. However his injury concerns will require plenty of depth at the position, and that starts with Flowers. He was easily the team's best cornerback in 2014, and the best one they have had in a long time. With Shareece "P.I." Wright a free agent, the Bolts need to bring Brandon Flowers back to keep their secondary from potentially falling apart in 2015.
We are talking about Antonio Gates and Jarret Johnson here. Gates has already stated that he will be back in 2015, and after his excellent season this year there will no doubt be a role for him. The same could be said for Johnson, who is limited as a pass rusher but is a tough and intelligent run defender on the edge as well as a veteran leader. The problem with these two is the price tag.
Gates is scheduled to make roughly $9.8 million, while Johnson would pull in $7.5 million. As it currently stands, they would be the team's third and fourth highest-paid players. Cutting both (which probably won't happen) would save the team about $11 million dollars.
How much will the team value these players, both of whom are limited specialists with leadership qualities? Jarret Johnson has already taken one paycut, would he take another? How the team handles these two will go a long way in determining their salary cap situation come free agency.
As hard on the Chargers as we like to be, they still finished 9-7 in 2014. They have a franchise quarterback, weapons on offense, and plenty of pieces on defense. Until now, Tom Telesco did not have the resources to fill all the holes on the roster. Now, it's time for the Chargers to load up.
I don't expect to see them go crazy like the Broncos last offseason, but the Chargers now have the funds to sign their important free agents and fill in problem spots on the roster. The most pressing need (Guard) can be fixed relatively inexpensively, and they can find some extra financial breathing room by releasing some of the players who struggled mightily in 2014 (Rinehart, Donald Brown).
With a deep free agent class, there will be plenty of potential additions that can help get this team over the hump (Randall Cobb, anyone?).