As we discussed in my previous post, the Chargers have some serious cap management ahead of them as they prepare for free agency. Of course, before they get to the open free agency period, they must also tend to their in-house free agents, franchise and transition tags, and possibly discuss an extension for one of their young players.
As it stands right now, Los Angeles has 26 players set to become either restricted, exclusive rights, or unrestricted free agents at 4 pm EST on March 14. There are some big names and key contributors on this list, a few depth pieces, and a handful of expendable players who are likely to be cut loose.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on the six unrestricted free agents I expect the Chargers to retain. We’ll talk about why the Chargers will keep them, what kind of contract they can expect, and their odds of being retained.
Let’s get started…
Tre Boston, FS
Tre joined the Chargers on a one-year “prove it” deal and, by all indications, he’s about to get paid. Boston led the team in interceptions, finished third on the team in passes defensed, and earned the ninth-highest coverage grade from Pro Football Focus (for whatever that’s worth).
I would be surprised if the Chargers don’t make every effort to bring Tre back. In fact, the only way I foresee the Chargers letting Boston walk is if they get outbid on the open market. I think the team will try to use the four-year, $25M deal John Cyprien signed last offseason as a barometer, while Boston’s camp will likely use that as a starting point and shoot for something closer to the four-year, $34M deal the Ravens gave to Tony Jefferson. My guess is they land somewhere in the middle.
Projected Market Value: 4 years, $32M, $15M guaranteed
Odds of being retained: 75/25*
*I’d say it’s more like 85/15 if not for the crazy safety market over the last few years.
Korey Toomer, LB
Korey Toomer had what I would call an up-and-down season in 2017. Plagued by poor reads and sloppy tackling in September, Toomer quickly found himself in the doghouse, ceded snaps at the MIKE linebacker position to Hayes-freaking-Pullard, and had to scratch-and-claw his way back up the depth chart before finishing strong. If nothing else, his resilience probably earned him a spot in the linebacker rotation in 2018.
Toomer signed a one-year, (roughly) $1.8M contract on a second round restricted free agent tender last offseason and, while he didn’t quite live up to expectations, he’s probably in line for a small pay increase as an unrestricted free agent. As a 29-year old rotational player, it’s unlikely Korey will sign anything more than a two year deal with a limited guarantee. The only thing that could stand between #56 and a new deal is a coaching staff that seemed to have luke-warm feelings about him for much of the season.
Projected Market Value: 2 years, $5M, $750K GTD
Odds of being retained: 70/30
Phillips is 25, the team has spent the last three years developing him, and the coaches rave about him. He’s also coming off of a season in which he played 519 defensive snaps and set career highs in tackles, interceptions, passes defensed, and forced fumbles while playing out of position at in a hybrid S/LB role in Gus Bradley’s defense. He’s about as close to we get to a lock in this internal free agent class.
Phillips made around $600K last year and will almost certainly be looking for a multi-year deal. He’s a difficult one to peg in terms of market value because he was on the field a lot in 2017 but hasn’t really established himself as a playmaker. I think this deal could settle somewhere in the 2-3 year range with an average annual value of $2M-$4M per year.
Projected Market Value: 3 years, $8M, $1M GTD
Odds of being retained: 90/10
My guess is the Chargers will at least try to retain Antonio Gates because he’s a future Hall of Famer, universally loved, and the coaches remain convinced he’s a red zone threat despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Should they? Probably not. But I suspect they’ll be sensitive to the public backlash not signing him would generate even though it’s probably time to move on.
Gates is coming off of a two year, $12M contract at the age of 37. He set career lows in offensive snaps, targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2017 and, for the most part, struggled to separate consistently. My guess is he’ll want a 1-2 year deal in the $5M/year range even though he should be a year-to-year proposition at this stage of his career. Look for a front-loaded two-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5M. These negotiations could go awry if Antonio is unwilling to accept a reduced role, or if he’s looking for more money.
Projected Market Value: 1 year, $2.5M, $1M GTD
Odds of being retained: 65/35
Much like Tre Boston and Adrian Phillips, Kenny Wiggins is coming off of the best season of his career. A starter for the first time at 30, Kenny started every game in the absence of Forrest Lamp and very much exceeded everyone’s expectations. That said, he tailed off through the second half of the season and is probably better suited to being a depth piece than a starter. He probably earned a new deal, just not the one he seems to think he earned.
Wiggins’ market value is a little tricky. One would think he’d jump at a two-year contract worth $2M-$3M per year, but he recently said he’s looking for a long-term contract…as a starter…at the age of 30…on a team that drafted two guards just twelve months ago. While signing Wiggins as a swing guard/tackle seems like an easy decision, it may be a difficult sell if he doesn’t recalibrate his expectations.
Projected Market Value: 2 years, $5M,$1M GTD
Odds of being retained: 60/40
Michael Schofield was a late addition on final cut-down day and he acquitted himself pretty well. He appeared in 15 games, started five, and managed to hold his own when starting right tackle Joe Barksdale was unable to go. I suspect the Chargers appreciate Michael’s versatility as someone who can play guard and tackle, which is what ultimately gets him a new deal in Los Angeles.
Schofield made roughly $1.8M in 2017 and will likely get at least a small pay increase and a small guarantee. I’m not sure he’s someone the team would want to commit to for more than a year, but he’s a nice security blanket to have should someone get hurt. There is always the chance the team sees him as expendable and opts to replace him in the draft.
Projected Market Value: 1 year, $2.25M, $750 GTD
Odds of being retained: 65/35
As you probably noticed, I do not expect Kellen Clemens, Matt Slauson, Branden Oliver or Jerry Attaochu to be retained this offseason. In my opinion, the team will finally part ways with Clemens in the interest of making Cardale Jones the backup quarterback, while the 32-year old Slauson just isn’t an athletic fit for this system at guard or center and would find himself behind Lamp, Feeney, and Wiggins on the depth chart if he came back. As for Oliver and Attaochu, the fact that both men spent most of the season as healthy scratches is a clear indication of how the coaching staff feels about them.
So, in summary, I expect the Chargers to make every effort to retain Tre Boston, Adrian Phillips, Korey Toomer, Antonio Gates, Kenny Wiggins and Michael Schofield. Boston, Toomer, Phillips, and Schofield are pretty easy decisions for me, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Gates and Wiggins price themselves out of town as things progress. I’d look for Toomer and Phillips to be the most likely of the bunch to outplay the deals the sign.
Thanks for reading and please keep an eye out for my next off-season piece – Two Restricted Free Agents The Chargers Will Re-Sign.
Let me know what you think in the comments section…