Heading into the 2016 preseason most Chargers fans probably never considered the idea that Darrell Stuckey might find himself on the roster bubble on the eve of final cuts. He is, after all, a member of the veteran class this coaching staff fights so hard to protect, was the team's Special Teams Player of the Year in 2013 and 2015, has represented the Chargers in the Pro Bowl and is one of the best gunners in the NFL. And yet here we are, on September 2, 2016, with Stuckey potentially getting caught up in a numbers game at safety.
We know Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery will at least begin the season as the starting safeties. Whether or not they deserve that honor is another story entirely, but the fact remains they are locked into those roles for the time being.
For his part, Adrian Phillips is equally locked in as the #3 safety. Phillips has earned this role (in the eyes of the coaches) based on his showing in the 2016 season finale in Denver and what was, admittedly, an impressive start to training camp which saw him force what seemed like a turn over a day. Granted, those picks came in practice against the likes of Zach Mettenberger and Mike Bercovici, but the coaches don't seem to be keeping track, so I won't, either.
Once we get beyond the top three spots on the safety depth chart, things become a little less clear.
As noted above, Stuckey is a respected veteran and a productive special teams player. Those two statements alone would usually be enough for Mike McCoy and company to keep Stuckey, but things may not be quite so cutting dry this time around. Darrell hasn't seen any preseason defensive snaps since week one, when he opened with the second team defense and looked completely lost.
Of course, Stuckey was supplanted with the second team defense by former CFL standout Dexter McCoil who showed a wide array of skills in his considerable playing time. Those talents were on full display in the last two preseason games, as McCoil was all over the field on special teams and defense, recording 16 tackles, 1 TFL and a pass defensed (dropped INT) while garnering a healthy dose of snaps. McCoil must and certainly will make the team, and while he figures to stick as the fourth safety with Stuckey retaining his special teams role, a strong case could be made for cutting #25 and still keeping five safeties.
Which brings us to one Adrian McDonald, the UDFA from Houston. A personal favorite of mine, and someone we've discussed at length on the Lightning Round Podcast, McDonald is another young safety who always seems to be around the ball and in position to make the play. Adrian has authored several massive hits, one of which caused a fumble against the Titans in the first preseason game, and made a fantastic play on an interception against the 49ers on Thursday.
So, the question as it relates to Stuckey ultimately becomes, what value does he really offer asa guy the coaches clearly don't trust him to contribute on defense? The obvious answer is, of course, special teams, but is that enough? I'm not entirely sure it is.
For starters, Dexter McCoil has been a special teams demon during the preseason, excelling as a gunner on kick and punt coverage teams. He is routinely the first player to reach the return man and, when he is, he makes the tackle. While it is only preseason, it seems to me Dexter is more than capable of replacing Stuckey in the gunner role without missing a beat.
It's also worth noting that several younger, cheaper and more versatile players have done a nice job of carving out special teams roles. This can be said of Joshua Perry, Derek Watt and, yes, even Craig Mager has found a way to add value on special teams (I just vomited in my mouth a little). And even though we haven't seen it yet due to a sprained ankle, I fully expect to see Jatavis Brown create havoc for opposing return specialists during the regular season.
The Chargers have added a great deal young and talented depth in the last two drafts, and that influx of talent creates something of a bottleneck at the bottom of the roster and on special teams as many of these players will need to earn their keep on special teams before they see time elsewhere and there are only so many spots to go around. This, of course, makes it more difficult to keep a one dimensional player when they have more versatile depth behind him.
And here's the kicker - Stuckey is set to earn $1,668,750 in 2016 and another $3.3M in 2017. That may not seem like much, but it may be hard to swallow for a guy who only makes 15-20 tackles per season. It may just be that Stuckey has reached to point in his career where the Law of Diminishing Returns comes into play.
So, as we all know, this is one of this situations in which we know what should happen and we probably know what will happen. I think a strong case can be, and has been, made for cutting Darrell Stuckey and keeping both Dexter McCoil and Adrian McDonald. It's nothing personal because I've always liked Darrell, but the numbers just don't support keeping him. Having said that, I fully expect the Chargers to keep 5 safeties (Addae, Lowery, Phillips, McCoil, Stuckey) and try to sneak Adrian McDonald onto the practice squad, I just hope they don't lose him in the process.