The Chargers will have right around $30 million in cap space heading into free agency, which starts next Wednesday, March 9th. As general manger Tom Telesco said, "we have enough room to do what we need to do." Let's talk about this. Because there are plenty of things that the Chargers "need to do." For this post, let's just stick with the offense, and we'll start up front.
Fixing the trenches
Re-signing Joe Barksdale should be a priority. He was the best tackle on the team last year no matter who was healthy and, if need be, he can play on the left. Ideally you'd want to keep him on the right side, but the option is there.
As for the left tackle position, it would be naive to think King Dunlap will be able to play a full season considering his recent concussion and injury history. There are options in free agency. There are a couple reasons I believe the Chargers should look to fix the offensive line in free agency.
For starters, rookies usually just aren't ready to play day 1. Recent drafts suggest that investing in an offensive tackle early is not the way go to. Bring in a player that's established and used to the speed of the game.
Secondly, I'd much rather invest early draft picks in "creator" positions instead of "preventer" positions. Offensive line is certainly a preventer position that is more about working in unison. Finally, I don't think the team is very good at developing players in general, but certainly not offensive lineman. Getting a player that is already developed makes the most sense with how the team is currently structured.
I've pegged a potential replacement in Donald Penn. He's 32 but he hasn't missed a game in 9 years. He's also really friggin' good. After the season he just had, you have to imagine he is going to have some serious suitors.
There are players that can be brought in without breaking the bank that can be massive upgrades to Dunlap. There are bigger names with injury history that are likely to get overpaid. The name to keep an eye on is Steelers LT Kelvin Beachum.
Most underrated OL free agents: C Tim Barnes, OG Jeff Allen, OT Kelvin Beachum, OT Bobby Massie.— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) March 2, 2016
@The_KP_Show 6-3 LT who is as technically proficient as anyone. Guy plays with outstanding leverage/base/UOH. A lot of fun to watch.— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) March 2, 2016
Brandon is a friend of mine that dedicates his life to watching offensive linemen. "UOH" is use of hands, that's an area where Beachum is superior to most of the big names the Chargers could sign but certainly Dunlap. Dunlap lets guys get into his body, despite his massive frame. This leads to a domino effect and once he absorbs contact he struggles to anchor. While Beachum is undersized in height and there were times longer-armed pass rushers gave him problems, the majority of times he was able to reset his hands and win the rep. Most importantly Beachum was beaten to the edge under 5 times in the 6 games this year. That's against some quality rushers including Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, Aaron Lynch, and the Chargers duo.
To put it in black and white, Beachum keeps the QB clean. This is a $5 bargain bin deal at Wal-mart that you end up getting a $50 value out of. The ACL is a concern but at 26 and the level he has played at I would certainly bring him in as competition.
Center is obvious. It's Alex Mack. Push all your chips to the middle of the table and make an offer he can't refuse. Sell him on the area. Sell him on the offense and how he'll be the centerpiece of the running game. Whatever pitch you need to do, use it.
Trevor Robinson was the worst player on the team in my opinion last year. His athleticism got exposed and he just wasn't strong enough at the point of attack. To make matters worse, he was so late at picking up his assignments that he nearly got El Capitan decapitated several times throughout the year. Putting him on the field would be an ignorant move next year. Here are 3 plays from Mack. 3 plays that Robinson never showed last year.
56 must've insulted Mack bc whenever Mack got the chance he buried him pic.twitter.com/7a0mzv14y4— KP (@The_KP_Show) March 3, 2016
He's a finisher. He seeks out his assignment and plays through the whistle. He did a nice job of driving nose tackles 1-on-1 in the run game, played well on combo blocks, and best of all, was aware in pass protection and didn't get beat by amateur moves. He has to be at the top of the list for the Chargers. Mack is really, really good.
Finding the right skill guys
Let's start with David Johnson. The "blocking" h-back was quite the waste of space the last couple years. I find it hard to imagine they can't upgrade from Johnson pretty easily. That should go a long way toward helping Melvin Gordon. When it came to blocking, Johnson was up there with Robinson when it came to blown blocks that I counted. The Rams fullback is an interesting name to keep an eye on but this seems like the position you want to bring in a young, hungry fullback from the draft.
I do wonder if some team is going to over pay Ladarius Green based purely on age and his flashy plays. Bringing him and Antonio Gates back should also be high on the priority list. They'll still need another tight end as John Phillips is a tight end and he was below average in the blocking department as well. Cardinals free agent Jermaine Gresham would help in the run game. That's a name to keep an eye on.
Now for receiver. The position everyone is afraid of overpaying.
The Chargers so desperately need a threat opposite of Keenan Allen and I'm not sure Stevie Johnson is that guy. At least, he didn't show he could be this past year. I would be terrified going into next year with Dontrelle Inman as the number 3 receiver. He's just not ready for that workload at this time. There are a handful of "okay" options, like Miami's Rishard Matthews, but it really comes down to 2 players, for me. Marvin Jones and Travis Benjamin.
We've gone over Jones before, so I don't need to recap too much on Keenan's old college roommate. He's an excellent route runner that has the ability to get vertical and is a big body receiver with a knack to make the spectacular play. I say he's a big body, but Jones also wasn't very physical in his routes. Defenders were able to reroute him or at least throw off the timing in his routes. He's 25 and has an estimated market value of $5.5 million annual. Him being the "top" receiver tells me someone is going to overpay for him.
That leaves us with Benjamin. If there's one takeaway you have when reading this I hope it's what this next line is: He's more than just a deep threat. The 26 year old had a career year with 68 catches for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns. Achieving those numbers with the replacement quarterbacks he played with should not be overlooked. He's at the top of the screen in the route below.
He wasn't targeted but those are the type of routes Benjamin runs. I was pleasantly surprised watching him. Yes, he ran 4.36 at the combine but he's not a 1 speed receiver that relies on athleticism to get open. That's the refreshing part about him. There's nuance to his game.
Benjamin could just run off, round into his route, and hope his speed was enough, but he doesn't. He drives, sells the outbreaking route for a few steps then comes back to the ball and holds on. I want to give him credit here and think he understood the safety had eyes on him and that's why he bended his route out a little. Either way, that's all route running and understanding where he's at on the field. I really like how Benjamin uses tempo and different hesitation in his routes. Now don't get me wrong, he's definitely a deep threat. He just brings a lot more to the table than he's given credit for. I haven't even mentioned his ability as a special teamer and how he can flip the field. I'm so tired of watching the offense having to march 70+ yards to score. Benjamin was 3rd in the NFL last year averaging 11.57 yards a punt return and I saw a couple where he was this close to breaking it. He brings a different dimension that just isn't on this team. Spotrac is estimating Benjamin to get somewhere $4 million annually and I would be thrilled to give him that sort of money.
This feels so against the grain to say that the 2 biggest free agent signings for the Chargers should be former Browns but here we are. Any names of the names mentioned would be fine gets for the team. It's just important for them to build depth and put them in a position heading into the draft where they don't have to force a pick at a position of need. What do you think? What is the most important position the Chargers need to address on offense in free agency?