Who to Cut
As well as Eddie Royal played last season, saving about $4.5 million for releasing him is too good to pass up. Keenan Allen will continue to grow and is the clear number one receiving option for Philip Rivers. I also expect a breakout season from Ladarius Green. He should take plenty of snaps at tight end as well as slot receiver and has the size and playmaking ability to become the number two.
Le'Ron McClain averaged about 8.5 snaps per game and clearly has no place in McCoy's offense. This is an easy call, take the $2.5 million and release him. He can have a more prominent role somewhere else.
The news of Nick Hardwick's return for 2014 makes it a little easier to cut ties with RG/RT Jeromey Clary. The team could save another four and a half million by letting the veteran walk. Clary is praised for his versatility, however he is not very good at either position he plays. Chargers offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris is one of the best in the business, and he is capable of coaching up youngster Johnnie Troutman or finding a cheaper replacement in the draft or free agency.
Derek Cox also needs to go. The date on which the Chargers cut him and the designation they use depends on how much money they save against the cap this season, but they save at least $1.5 by admitting their mistake after year one. They could find a better player late in the draft than somebody who was benched multiple times.
Who to Re-sign
Donald Butler did not have his best season last year, but the Bolts need to find a way to keep him. There are no players behind Butler besides special-teamers, and I am not sold on Manti Te'o at all. Butler is capable of playing much better than he did in 2013 and has earned an extension over the course of his career.
Chad Rinehart was crucial to the turnaround of the Chargers' offensive line in 2013. He missed a few games due to injury, but he provided stable play at left guard, something Charger fans haven't seen since Kris Dielman.
Rich Ohrnberger and Reggie Walker provide depth and should be affordable. It would be nice to keep these guys around. Seji Ajirotutu and Darrell Stuckey should be kept based on their special teams play alone.
As for Cam Thomas, he would be a better fit elsewhere. His skillset does not fit what John Pagano likes to do on defense. Thomas is better as a 1-gap defensive lineman that can split gap rather than play 2-gap and hold blockers. Thomas was asked to do the latter, and I believe they can find someone better suited than him to do so.
The way I see it, free agency should be used to fill major roster holes rather than trying to build the foundation of a team. The Chargers aren't in the best situation salary cap-wise, but the increase to over $130 million and a few veteran cuts should give them plenty of room to re-sign players and plug holes. The most obvious hole is at cornerback. Lucky for San Diego, there are plenty of CB's that will hit the market, and more than a few will be available at a good price. Overall, I counted at least 15 free agents that would have been the team's best cornerback last year. They could probably aim higher due to the depth of the free agent pool, but my plan would be to sign one the handful of second-tier guys that would be relatively cheap, but would still instantly become a starting corner in San Diego. That list includes guys like Tarell Brown, Sam Shields, and Corey Graham.
With the contract situation of Royal, and Malcolm Floyd contemplating retirement due to injury, wide receiver could be a need this offseason. Fellow BFTB writer Kyle Posey gives a great breakdown of the free agent receivers here, so I won't go into great detail. Grabbing a guy like Golden Tate, who fits the Bolts' offense perfectly and at a lower cost than the higher-tiered guys like Eric Decker would be perfect to fill the number two wide receiver void.
San Diego could also stand for some veteran depth at positions like offensive guard and nose tackle. Again, Tom Telesco showed last year he is willing to wait to sign to the right guy for the right price and that mindset is ideal on a limited budget.
Ahhh... the most wonderful time of the year. With the exception of the start of the season, no time brings more excitement to hardcore football fans than the NFL Draft (unless your team goes to the Super Bowl, and, well, it's been a while for us Charger fans). The 2014 draft class has been praised as being one of the deepest classes in years, and luckily for the Chargers, it's deep in positions they need.
San Diego could find a starting cornerback pretty much anywhere in the first two rounds of the draft. They could be looking at someone like Jason Verrett (TCU), Justin Gilbert (OK State) , Marcus Roberson (Florida), Kyle Fuller (VA Tech), or Bradley Roby (Ohio State). Considering the talent pool is deep, it's hard to project where these guys go. With little talent at the position on the roster, the Chargers shouldn't wait too long to grab one of the many talented corners.
Wide Receiver could be a focus early as well. Philip Rivers is in the prime of his career but there is no reason to stop giving him weapons. Targets on the first two days of the draft should include Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU), Jarvis Landry (LSU), and Brandin Cooks (OR State), all of whom are quick, shifty players with great route running skills and YAC ability. These players would fit the offense very well.
Telesco will also need to address outside linebacker, with Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson both on the wrong side of 30. They interviewed Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech), and could also show interest in Dee Ford (Auburn) in the first round. If they choose to wait until the second or or third day, they could shoot for my personal favorite, Aaron Lynch (USF), or somebody like Carl Bradford (ASU) or Marcus Smith (Louisville).
Those are what I see as the main needs, but the Bolts could also shoot for some interior line depth on both sides of the ball, and maybe a left tackle to develop if King Dunlap can't stay healthy. The point is, if the Chargers can manage to fill glaring needs in free agency, it will allow them to go after the best player available in the draft regardless of the position. With so much talent in this draft, its as good a year as any to do so. Keenan Allen is a great example of a BPA pick that didn't seem to be a need at the time, but he turned out to be the most valuable weapon in the receiving corps.