Heading into the 2018 season the Chargers knew they needed help at the free safety position, and needed it badly. Jahleel Addae was set to be the team’s starting safety opposite Derwin James and the team (hopefully) knew that that wasn’t the direction they wanted to go.
Earlier in the offseason, the Chargers signed former Philadelphia Eagle safety Jaylen Watkins to compete and/or provide depth. In an instance we know all too well, Watkins suffered a season-ending injury prior to the regular season. This led to Addae getting the starting nod over Rayshawn Jenkins as the team’s starting free safety and the rest is (forgettable) history.
Following the season, the team signed Watkins again for another year to allow the veteran one more shot to make an impact with this team.
Years with team: 1
“Jaylen Watkins signed a 1 year, $895,000 contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, including a $60,000 signing bonus, $60,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $895,000. In 2019, Watkins will earn a base salary of $805,000, a signing bonus of $60,000 and a roster bonus of $30,000, while carrying a cap hit of $705,000 and a dead cap value of $60,000.” - Spotrac.com
Over his final two years in Philly, Watkins played in 28 games with five starts. During those seasons, he collected 47 total stops with two tackles-for-loss and three passes defensed.
Coming out of the University of Florida, Watkins was best known for his physical play style and notable change of direction. He was often used on cornerback blitzes, as well.
Watkins offers position flexibility (a big theme in this secondary) and is one of three defenders on the team listed as a “defensive back” on the roster instead of specifically being noted as a cornerback or safety. The other two are current UDFA Rodney Randle and Arrion Springs.
The most optimistic view for Watkins going forward would be someone who could provide depth and multiple positions across the secondary to allow Gus Bradley continued versatility in his defense. If he can be the second-string free safety and slot corner, then there’s a spot for him on this team.
Watkins is coming off a torn-ACL that he suffered in early August of last year. Due to the demands of the defensive back positions and their vital need to excel in change-of-direction, I would hope Watkins isn’t back any sooner than he has to be. In a situation like this, it’s tough not to think about former CB Jason Verrett and the plethora of injuries he sustained following his initial ACL-tear.
I truly believe Watkins’ best football is ahead of him, but he’s got to get out of the murkiness of the injury before hopes can get too high.
Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2019
Watkins’ chances of making the final 53-man roster are very high, especially if they view Adrian Phillips as still more of a linebacker than a true safety who will provide depth behind James. If we exclude Phillips from the safety group, they should very much keep four safeties in James, Adderley, Jenkins, and Watkins.
If fully-healthy, I expect a limited amount of snaps for Watkins with the chance to see some legitimate playing time if the defense decides to continue their trend of trotting out 6+ defensive backs.