The Chargers are under a month away from Free Agency and nobody seems to have a good grasp on the left tackle position for the Chargers. Is King Dunlap going to retire due to recent injuries? Can he be trusted if he stays around? San Diego needs to figure out how they want to address the position moving forward. I believe they can get the best value in free agency, and one of the better values is the Raiders left tackle, Donald Penn.
Age and Contract
Penn is 32 years old and I can see how that would immediately turn off any fan. You can look at the fact that he's 32 or you can look at the fact that he hasn't missed a game since 2007. That alone should be enough of a reason to vault Penn to the top of the free agent list. Spotrac estimates Penn's contract will be 3 years, $24 million. With the recent news that the salary cap is jumping $12 million to $155 million, that's a great deal for how Penn has performed.
What Penn brings to the table
Using a 4 game sample size on Penn, which includes his 3 divisional games and the Titans, these were essentially the 4 best edge rushers he faced. Penn fared surprisingly well against speed to the edge. No rusher beat him to the edge, which is pretty remarkable even in a small sample size considering the type of players he faced. For a guy that doesn't look like he'd move well, he certainly does. Here's some clips from the games:
Donald Penn might be the best value at OT in FA. Nasty finisher and kept the QB clean pic.twitter.com/f12he3SZAq— KP (@The_KP_Show) February 16, 2016
You can see just in those clips how much depth he gets in pass protection. That's big and that's an area where the Chargers left tackles struggled a year ago. He gave up 2 sacks and 1 of the sacks Penn gave up in the 4 games was when the QB drifted in the pocket and held the ball for over 4 seconds. I wouldn't have faulted Penn for that.
Against the run Penn would be an upgrade due to his work against double teams. He understands that you have to secure the 1st level before you work to the 2nd level. Even though he's not what you would call a "gifted" athlete, he understands angles and was able to cut off linebackers easily at the 2nd level. Overall, he just handled his assignments well and didn't make many mistakes. He's quite obviously an upgrade over King Dunlap. He's only 2 years older, considerably better, and most importantly, hasn't missed a game since he was drafted in 2007. Not only has he missed the injury bug his entire career, Penn brings the nastiness that's been missing up front. If the Chargers really want to run the ball they need to change the demeanor of players they bring in.
Areas he can improve
The Raiders didn't ask Penn to move very much. He has great effort when he does, but when he did pull, there were occasions where he was late to pick up his assignment or just couldn't break down to block them in time. However, the biggest area of improvement for Penn came when rushers tried to bull rush him. He was late with his hands and defenders would get their hands on him first. Here's some of the bad Penn:
The bad pic.twitter.com/vKsdU9kqHI— KP (@The_KP_Show) February 16, 2016
There's no doubt in my mind now that you've seen the bad plays that you're convinced he sucks and isn't worth it. That's how the brain works. You'll remember the bad and forget the good. I'm just trying to be fair and showing that there are areas where Penn can improve. Being a tackle for San Diego means you'll face the upper echelon pass rushers of the league. There are going to be plays where you get embarrassed. Penn isn't a flawless player. As he retreats in his kick slide the timing of his punch was off and that's what led to some of these plays. The Chargers don't ask their tackles to pull very much but that was an inconsisent area for Penn as well. He can get to spots that Dunlap can't. It's just a matter of breaking down and hitting his target.
Penn isn't a long-term answer for the Chargers but the future is now considering the state of the team. They don't have time to develop a left tackle and the best bet is to sign a tackle that is ready to contribute right away. Penn provides the best value in free agency when you base it off his level of play and what his contract is supposed to be.