The Chargers are primed for a busy offseason defined by a number of internal personnel decisions. Some of those decisions will be easy, while others could prove to be exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons. Either way, they have to make all of these decisions between February 4th and the beginning of free agency on March 13th.
As it stands right now, Los Angeles has 19 players set to become either restricted, exclusive rights, or unrestricted free agents at 4pm EST on March 13th. 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.
This is the fourth installment of my offseason plan series, in which I will cover all of the offseason moves I would make leading up to the draft. The previous three pieces covered cuts and extensions, restricted and exclusive rights free agents, and the unrestricted free agents I expect the team to re-sign. Let’s dive into the four unrestricted free agents I don’t expect the team to re-sign this offseason. We’ll talk about the season they had in 2018, what I expect the team to do, and what their contracts will look like.
Let’s get started…
There is no doubt Tyrell Williams has come a long way since the Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He just finished his third straight season with 40+ receptions, 650+ yards and 4+ touchdowns, has worked hard on being more physical at the catch point, and is a great source of explosive plays. The truth is, he probably would have posted much bigger numbers had he not had to share the ball with Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Melvin Gordon and Mike Williams over the last couple seasons, but that’s how things go.
That said, Tyrell has publicly stated he wants to be paid like a #1 receiver and, as much as I like him, he just isn’t that guy. His routes are still inconsistent, he doesn’t fight for the ball consistently, and he tends to disappear for games at a time. I think the contracts recently signed by Paul Richardson and Randall Cobb represent the likely comps for Tyrell, who will probably exceed both because of his ability to stretch the field.
Market Value: Four years, $50,000,000, $14,000,000 guaranteed
Odds of leaving: 90/10
On one hand, Denzel Perryman appeared to be on his way to a career year in 2018 before tearing the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee during the Chargers week 9 win over the Raiders (51 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, two passes defensed, one interception). On the other, the Chargers fourth-year middle linebacker failed to play 10+ games in in each of the last two seasons and has yet to play a full NFL season. I know the team considers him a leader and believes he’s a key cog in a successful run defense, I’m just not sure his one dimensional game is enough to overlook the lack of availability.
I started out using the contract Preston Brown signed with the Bengals last offseason as a comp, then discounted it because of the injuries. That said, I could easily see a new deal for Perryman containing escalators that drive the total value up near $5,000,000 per year – and he might find a multi-year deal on the open market. The team has to be careful here because it isn’t hard to see Denzel becoming a Donald Butler type of problem with the injuries robbing him of his physical abilities.
Market Value: 1 year, $3,500,000 with $2,500,000 in playing time incentives
Odds of leaving: 70/30
I know, I know – everyone is still holding out hope that Jason Verrett will finally stay healthy and return to his former Pro Bowl form. Unfortunately, that’s a little like holding out hope that Gus Bradley will blitz Tom Brady in a playoff game. Too soon? Sorry, my bad. But the point remains – Verrett was last a Pro Bowler in 2015, and he has played a total of FIVE games since the start of the 2016 regular season. He’s small, he’s brittle, and he’s unreliable. It’s time to move on.
I think the Chargers will probably try to re-sign Jason Verrett to a team friendly, one-year deal loaded with playing time and production-based incentives. But I also think he’s likely to garner more interest than that on the open market, with DJ Hayden’s three-year, $19,000,000 contract with the Jaguars being the model for an agreement. In the end, I think Jason opts for the presumed security of a long-term contract over the Chargers’ prove-it offer and winds up leaving town for greener pastures.
Market Value: 3 years, $15,000,000 with $5,000,000 in playing time incentives
Odds of leaving: 80/20
Yeah, I know Tom Telesco said he thinks Antonio still has touch downs left in him, and he may actually believe that. I just don’t think it happens with the Chargers. With a few outliers, Gates was largely invisible this season. His targets, receptions and touchdowns were all down from his 2017 totals, he had three or fewer targets in 11 games, and his three games without a target represented a career high (or low, depending on how you look at it). He just isn’t that reliable and, with Hunter Henry coming back, there really isn’t a clear role for him.
As I’m sure we all recall, the Chargers decided it was time to move on last offseason, and would have stuck by that decision had Hunter Henry not been lost for the season in minicamp. When you consider Henry’s injury history and the fact that he’s up for a new deal next year, it becomes even more clear that it’s time to part with Gates in favor of adding another young, pass-catching tight end in the draft. All good things must come to an end, and that holds true here, as well.
Market value: 1 year, $2,500,000
Odds of leaving: 90/10
In case you were wondering, I have not overlooked the fact that Geno Smith, Hayes Pullard and Donnie Jones are also primed to hit the market as unrestricted free agents this offseason. Let’s just say I didn’t think you were any more interested in reading about those particular players than I was in writing about them and planned accordingly. No slight on them – well, maybe a little slight – I just don’t think they figure into the team’s plans for 2019.
To summarize, I think Tyrell Williams is about to get overpaid in a way that will both convince the Chargers to let him walk and make it difficult for him to meet expectations with his new team. While the Chargers will undoubtedly offer Denzel Perryman and Jason Verrett low-risk, one-year deals, I think it’s likely both can, and probably will, find longer deals for bigger money elsewhere. And finally, whether fans are ready to admit it or not, it’s time for the Antonio Gates era to come to an end.
Thanks for reading my thoughts on the unrestricted free agents the Chargers shouldn’t re-sign. What do you think? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments section below…