At 3-5, Los Angeles is halfway through the 2017 season and is gearing up for a possible late-season playoff push. During the first half of the season, the Chargers have had some highs, some lows, and a whole lot of unknown. The next eight games for Los Angeles will be a critical time for coaches and players to answer those questions.
If first-year head coach, Anthony Lynn, fails to answer those questions during the second part of the season, then he will be tasked to evaluate the effectiveness of both coaches (***cough cough Ken Whisenhunt) and players.
With the help from OverTheCap, I identified polarizing players that could face the chopping block in 2018 if they fail to produce during this imperative run of games.
Corey Liuget has had somewhat of a resurgence this year (he couldn’t be much worse than last year). The Chargers defensive tackle has done an admirable job of both stopping the run and being a disruptive pass rusher as well. With a grade of 80.2, ProFootball Focus has Liuget ranked as the 42nd best interior defensive in the NFL.
Then why is Liuget even on this list you ask? While he has flashed on game film, Liuget simply hasn’t done enough to justify his hefty price tag he comes with. The seven-year vet has 12 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 0 sacks so far this year. Those are hardly numbers you expect to see from a $51.25 million defensive tackle. It is perplexing why he is unable to get to the quarterback over the last couple years. One would think with the emergence of Ingram and Bosa, the attention/double teams would shift to the edge rushers, leaving Liuget with more one on one match ups. The last time Liuget had a sack was week 7... of the 2015 season! He clearly has regressed as a pass rusher over the last couple of years.
Critics will state that it is not always about what appears on the stats sheet. And that may very well be true. But please realize, part of the reason for Liuget’s “bounce back year” is due to the fact that coaches are limiting his snap counts so that he remains effective and fresh. So to recap, the Chargers are paying Liuget over $50 million to be a part-time interior lineman that isn’t a playmaker
If Liuget doesn’t raise his level of play these next 8 games; it is easy to see L.A. moving on from him in 2018. Liuget has a $9.5 million cap hit in 2018, with a dead cap number of $3 million (meaning the Chargers can save $6 million next year). The combination of low production, a high cap number, and the rising play of a possible replacement (Darius Philon) could have the former first-rounder looking for new employment in 2018.
Travis Benjamin, every Chargers fans favorite punt returner. Benjamin was brought to the Chargers by Tom Telesco for two reasons, 1. to provide life to a special teams group that was dead, and 2. to take the top off of the defense and be a deep threat weapon for Rivers.
Since his arrival to the Chargers, Benjamin has been an inconsistent, average, wide receiver and a subpar kick/punt returner. In his year and a half service with Los Angeles, Benjamin has amassed 66 receptions, 981 yards, and 7 touchdowns.
Benjamin now finds himself stuck at the bottom of the depth chart behind a healthy Keenan Allen, a flashy rookie wideout, and last years leading receiver, Tyrell Williams. The former Cleveland Browns wideout is going to have to make his mark on special teams returning kicks and punts if he wants to prove his worth ($7 million cap hit). Even that might not be enough to keep him after this year. The Chargers can gain $4.5 million in cap savings next year if Benjamin continues to flounder like he has been over the last 18 months. Benjamin has to become that electric playmaker he was brought in to be if he is to have a chance to be on the 2018 roster.
Tom Telesco, the coupon God himself, made a shrewd move when he signed Joe Barksdale in 2015. The Chargers were in need of some major help along the offensive line and Barksdale provided some stability at the right tackle position. The Chargers rewarded Barksdale in the 2016 season with a 4 year, $22.2 million deal.
Barksdale suffered from poor play last year but still managed to survive the offensive line fire sale this past offseason. It is hard to evaluate Barksdale’s performance this year as he has been in and out of the line up due to injuries. Through the first 8 games of the season, L.A.’s right tackle has been decent in the run game but below average in pass protection. Barksdale is the 61st ranked tackle this year with a poor grade of 43.3.
In order to help Barksdale in pass protection this year, Anthony Lynn has used Chargers’ up and coming tight end, Hunter Henry, as an extra pass blocker as opposed to an offensive weapon. This has hindered Los Angeles’ offense because one of their best mismatches has been forced to stay in to block and help Barksdale rather than run routes. If Barksdale doesn’t get back on the field soon and back to his play from 2 years ago, Lynn will have no problem giving the right tackle his walking papers so the Chargers can save $3.8 million in cap space in 2018.
Let’s get this out there, I am a big fan of Brandon Mebane. He has been a strong veteran presence in the Chargers locker room. And before he went out with a season-ending injury last year, Mebane was a force in the middle of the Chargers defense.
After the NFL draft, Mebane jokingly said in an interview that he was glad that the Chargers didn't draft any defensive lineman because it ensured his spot on the roster. The 11-year vet started out slow in the beginning of this year but has turned it around the last couple of games. Still, Mebane needs to show that he can stay healthy and continue his upward ascension for the remainder of the year if he has a shot to stay with the team beyond 2017.
However, age is not on Mebane’s side. The Chargers’ defensive tackle will be 33 next year and will be in the final year of his 3-year contract. It is hard to believe that Telesco will keep a defensive tackle that is long in the tooth at a salary of $5.5 million even if he does ball out for the remainder of the year.
Sound off Chargers fans, which of the above should the Chargers part ways with. Are there any other players on that team that need to step up their game to stay with L.A. beyond the 2017 NFL Season?