The NFL off season is right upon us, and for the Los Angeles Chargers, that can only mean one thing; it is the annual tradition where Tom Telesco mulls over options how to improve their dreadful offensive line. No, I am not exaggerating people, the Chargers had THEE worst offensive line in the NFL this year according to Pro Football Focus.
Do not listen to the alternative facts that Chargers’ management, like Tom Telesco, will regurgitate to you ,the people. You want facts people? How about the fact that the Chargers let up the second most quarterback pressures (147) in the league this year. Ok, so the pass protection was weak, but at least the running game was vastly improved this year, right? Nope! If it wasn’t for the herculean effort of Melvin Gordon, the Chargers running game would have been non existent. Melvin Gordon gained 61.2% of his yards after contact; translation, the sophomore rusher was a one man show.
Telesco is the architect of the Chargers 32nd ranked offensive line. The Chargers’ GM had a vision, to build a wall, a big, beautiful wall to protect Philip Rivers and the line of scrimmage. However, Telesco went about it all wrong. He assembled a group of offensive lineman who where strong and YUGE... sorry I meant huge. The Chargers’ offensive line was the second biggest line in the league. Telesco’s dream was to use these mammoth players in a power running scheme. But it is not always about size. Often these big plodders played with poor pad level and leverage, resulting in poor play up and down the line.
Something has to be done in order to ensure Rivers and Gordon’s success next year. So the Bolts From the Blue staff entrusted me to do something that the Chargers’ GM couldn't do, build a competent, average offensive line. This is by no means the views of all the staff members, this is solely my opinion. Do not worry folks, I have a successful track record of building successful teams. Just this past year, all of the offensive lineman on my Madden team made the pro bowl (granted I did turn the salary cap feature off during the season). So you are in good hands.
The knee jerk reactions of most Chargers fans would be to cut every player minus Slauson. And hey, I am all for draining the swamp as the next guy, but sorry all, that would not be feasible/ a realistic solution. So as I put my GM hat on, I first address the players that will retain their jobs for next season. Slauson is a lock to come back next year due to his good performance, leadership, toughness, and cost effective salary. I am also retaining Joe Barksdale despite his horrid play this year. The rationale here is that Barksdale is one year removed from good play and could have just had a down year. And oh yea, it would be a $6 million dead cap hit for Los Angeles if Barksdale is cut this year, as oppose to the $2 million dead cap hit the following year. Lastly, I feel obligated to keep one of the starting guards of the Chargers. This is a tough decision for me but I am holding onto Frankin. I love Fluker’s tenacity, mentality, work ethic, and him as a person. But, Fluker often has too many mental lapses (such as missed assignments on stunts and twists) and limited athleticism that hinder his ability on reach blocks and pulls. Factor in Fluker is due $8 million this year, you could see why I decided to keep Franklin (most likely his last year with the team). Lastly, Dunlap is also getting his walking papers from me because of his age, play, and concussion/injury history. I make this decision despite the fact that he will be a $3.25 million cap hit.
Ok the fat is now trimmed. Now who do I go after to help replace Dunlap and Fluker? My options are limited here because the draft does not have a strong group of offensive linemen this year and the same can be said for the free agency class. My plan would be to draft one player to fill a void and sign one free agent. Free agents like Andrew Whitworth (LT), Ricky Wagner (RT), Kevin Zeitler (RG), and Larry Warford (RG) will most likely be kept by their respective teams. Even if these players slip to free agency, the Chargers will not be able to afford them. There are less expensive options at the guard position this year in free agency (ie: TJ Lang, Ron Leary, and Chance Warmack); but I am looking at another option to replace Fluker that I will mention later on. So, who is Phiip Rivers blindside protector for 2017?
I am going after Riley Reiff, the Detroit Lions right tackle. A right tackle to play left tackle? Sounds crazy right? Not really. Up until this year Reiff was the starting left tackle for the Detroit Lions. During his tenure as the Lions’ left tackle, Reiff received above average grades from Pro Football Focus. During his first year as right tackle, PFF gave him a grade of 67 while NFL1000 had him at 75, which was ranked 5th among right tackles. The fact that Reiff can play both the left tackle and right tackle position at an above average level is extremely valuable. Reiff provides flexibility where he would start at left tackle for the 2017 NFL season and could move over to the right side if Barksdale continues to regress (don’t worry, the offensive tackle group is much stronger in next years draft, see Texas OT Connor Williams and Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey). Reiff is an affordable option for the Chargers and would be more athletic and a better pass protector than the incumbent, King Dunlap. Side note, my back up plan would be Matt Kalil.
Ok so I addressed the left tackle position through free agency, now it is time to get younger/better (and cheaper) at the right guard position via the draft this year. The prospect I am targeting in the 2017 NFL Draft is Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp. Get used to this name. Not because of all the puns you can make from his name (I love Lamp! or Run Forrest Run!), but because this kid is a gamer. He was the Hilltoppers starting left tackle but is projected to be a guard in the NFL because of his short arms. Scouts are comparing him to the Dallas Cowboys Zack Martin because of his measurable, and play. Like Martin, Lamp is extremely athletic and sound with his technique. His elite athleticism allows him to reach blockers and get to the second level of the defense. Lamp has also displayed tremendous balance and foot work, so even when he is beaten by a defender, he is able to recover and lock out the defender with his massive hands. Don’t be concerned with the level of competition Lamp has faced in his college career. His best game this year was against Alabama when he shut down Alabama stars, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. Just how good is Lamp? Last year college offensive tackles gave up pressures on 3.8% of pass plays, while Lamp gave up pressures on just 1% of the time.
So here it is all, my 2017 Los Angeles Chargers offensive:
Left Tackle: Riley Reiff, Chris Hairston
Left Guard: Orland Franklin, Spencer Pulley
Center: Matt Slauson, Max Tuerk
Right Guard: Forrest Lamp, Donovan Clark
Right Tackle: Joe Barksdale
With this combination, the Chargers become more versatile for present and future as well as flexible in terms of finances. So what do we think people, given the Chargers tight salary cap situation, do I get your vote of confidence with these moves?