The one thing you can't do as a general manager is be afraid to make mistakes. Tom Telesco signed Derek Cox last year to a 4 year, $20 million dollar contract. Was this a risk? Absolutely. Did it work out in year one? Absolutely not.
Here's how much confidence the Chargers had in Cox: In the playoffs Marcus Gilchrist left with a concussion. They chose to play Crezdon Butler the final 14 snaps over Derek Cox. Looking at Cox's contract, the Chargers could save some valuable money if they cut him. I wrote this awhile back that I believe Cox's issues were more mental than physical. Still, he's not in a position to succeed. This is the problem.
No one wants to hear this, but the difference between the offensive coaching staff and the defensive coaching staff as far as putting players in a position to succeed and developing them, is like comparing (with all due respect) Shawne Merriman to Larry English. The offensive staff is so much further ahead. That makes it problematic to bring in a free agent (or a draft pick) to come in and be successful. Charger players added to the defensive side of the ball have to be NFL ready, or incredibly advanced that they don't need coached up. Unpopular, but at this point, it just is what it is.
Reviewing the Roster
|Cox (Cut?)||Patrick (Injury?)||Wright|
|Marshall (UFA)||Williams (Rookie)||C. Butler (Unknown)|
I am expecting quite a bit of turnover throughout the off-season. in this group. Cox could be gone, Richard Marshall's play did nothing to suggest he should be back, Johnny Patrick can't stay healthy, Steve Williams is talented, but a rookie playing one of the hardest positions in the NFL can't be counted on to succeed early, and Butler is "just a guy" at this point. That leaves Shareece Wright, who got better and better as he got reps. I was pleased with his progression as a 1st year full-time starter. He's an ideal #2 CB, and someone that can slide inside to play the slot on passing downs, which leaves a glaring need at the #1 CB.
The Talented Draft Class
Here's a look at where the 13 CBs I've graded in this draft rank. It's a stacked class. Like I said above, it's hard to imagine a rookie CB coming in right away and shoring up one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Even harder to imagine that player coming in and being developed to his ceiling. If the Chargers go CB in the draft, it'll have to be a guy that's NFL ready, not a "project player." Here's the 5 most NFL ready CBs on the list.
Kyle Fuller (if injury checks out at the combine, he's the best CB in the class)
Fuller is likely the best football player, Dennard is the best technician, Gilbert is the best athlete, Gaines is the most aware/sound, and Breeland is the most natural cover guy. So take your pick, Telesco. The last two should be available in Round 2.
The Even More Talented Free Agent Class
The difference between Free Agency and the NFL Draft is that Free Agency is need-based, the draft is talent-based. Knowing that Corner is a need, the Chargers should be aggressive in pursuing a corner. That way once the draft comes, they can simply gather the best talent without worrying about needs.
If you're in need of a #1 CB, this is a good year. The Chargers don't have the money to over pay, but they can create some space to sign a valuable player. There's no position more valuable (for the Chargers current situation) than CB. Bringing in an established player allows you, as a defensive coordinator, to not only do more things as a play caller, but get away with mistakes.
Here's the list of free agent corners per PFF. Yes, please. Someone is going to over pay, of course. The fact that there's so many good, established players makes me think that the market price will go down. Last year, Sam Shields was a restricted free agent and could have been available for a 2nd round pick. I'm confused when teams don't go after talented players like that, knowing that it's a need. Especially considering the player you're giving up a draft pick for is young and more likely to be immediately productive than any rookie you draft.
Here are 4 guys that could come in and be a true #1 CB (and reasonably affordable) for the next 4-5 years.
Alterraun Verner (Tennessee Titans)
Verner is 25 years old, went to UCLA (I'm not sure if that matters) and has been a very underrated player the last 4 years. When the Titans played San Diego in week 3, he blanketed Vincent Brown. Verner has struggled the last 2 years in the second half of the season, which leads me to believe he won't get "#1 money." Going through his AFC West games, he was very good against Kansas City, okay against Oakland, but boy did Denver give him fits. He played press man the majority of the game and Eric Decker had 7 catches for 110 yards on him.
To be fair, Denver did that to a lot of teams. Verner is a very sound player. He's instinctive, he's very quick, and...wait for it...looks back for the ball and makes plays on the ball. In 2013, Verner had double the passes defensed as Shareece Wright, the Chargers best corner.
Walter Thurmond (Seattle Seahawks)
This is where the myth dies. It drives me nuts when people say teams are "looking for the Seattle type CB." First of all, Brandon Browner isn't very good. Second, Richard Sherman is great because of his awareness and route recognition, his length is just a bonus. The other corner, Walter Thurmond, is 5'11, but is just so well coached. My point is these guys are successful because of where they win, not just because they're big.
Thurmond played a lot of snaps in the slot for Seattle, but once Browner went down, he showed he can get the job done outside. Thurmond is a big talent. He's strong enough to play bigger receivers, and shifty enough to guard the smaller, quicker ones in the slot. There's no route that he really can't guard.
Thurmond was suspended for 4 games, so there is a risk there. He also has an injury history. Because of this, he's likely not going to receive #1 CB money.
Sam Shields (Green Bay Packers)
My personal favorite. Could've been on the squad last year for a second round pick and instead they.... Either way, now the Chargers have a chance to get a very good player. Shields' PFF grade doesn't do him justice. He was asked to play on an island a lot, and shadowed other teams #1 receivers quite a bit. He allows coordinators to do so much more. He's 26 and is already developed quite the skill set. He's 5'11, with long arms and ran a 4.37 40 yard dash.
Shields is comfortable in press man, where he can use his length, or in off coverage, where he can use his quickness. Another guy that plays the ball well when it's in the air. He is active in the run game, though he will miss his fair share of tackles, but is where he needs to be. Along with his cover skills, that is more than enough for me.
Vontae Davis (Indianapolis Colts)
Davis is where the Chargers might have to break out the big boy checkbook. For Davis, it's worth it. Another great athlete, the 26 year old had games in 2013 where he was absolutely dominant. There was a Sunday night game, if you remember, against the Broncos where he embarrassed both Decker and Demaryius Thomas at the line of scrimmage. They couldn't get off the line.
One of the best traits about Davis is that when he gets beat, he doesn't let it affect him for the rest of the game. That's an issue San Diego had last year, after the corners made a bad play, it would just snow ball from there. On the 3rd play of the game against the Texans, Davis was beat on a double move by Andre Johnson for 62 yards and a score. The rest of the game he allowed 2 catches for 16 yards on 7 targets.
Davis does the little things like use the sideline to his advantage and grab the jersey of receivers, but he's a veteran that knows how to avoid getting penalized. He's another player that can shadow other receivers and even move inside to the slot on passing downs if need be.
Those are the 4 corners I'm hoping for. It won't be hard to upgrade at the position opposite of Wright, but getting a proven talent is necessary. Which corner would you like?
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