In my estimation, the LA Chargers could have at least $70 million in cap space once they make a few cuts and even were they to tag Hunter Henry and pay him $11 million, they have more than enough to sign two or three young players to build around for the next era of the franchise. This does not have to include a high-profile quarterback and quarterback is not the position that I’m going to focus on today.
The players I would focus on are:
- 26 or younger
- Play positions that often lack available talent
- Fill the Chargers greatest needs
At this time, I believe that LA’s greatest needs are on the offensive line and that is not a point of great contention. Of course QB is Need 1 but I think Anthony Lynn and Tom Telesco would be better served to focus on improving everything else on the menu before addressing the signature dish. The Chargers can admit faults in their decor, presentation, and appetizers and make the restaurant more palatable to the FMOTF (filet mignon of the future) and boy oh boy this metaphor is off the rails.
There are some rare-to-find available linemen on the market, and a couple that really stand out.
Jack Conklin, OT
As Michael Peterson wrote back in January, Conklin stands out as arguably one of the three best linemen in free agency and I believe he could be OL1 right now. He ranked 10th among all tackles over at PFF, ahead of left tackle teammate Taylor Lewan at 11. Conklin also seems about as adept at pass blocking as he is in run blocking and he combined forces in Tennessee to block for an MVP candidate at running back and the breakout star of the year at quarterback.
Best of all, to me, is that Conklin doesn’t turn 26 until August so a contract comparable to the one that Lewan signed (five years, $80 million) means that he should remain in his prime years for the duration of the deal. He’d only be playing one season of the contract at 30 years or older and the team could still reasonably get out of it by his age 29 season should things go south.
Consider that Anthony Castonzo, also a free agent, is already older (31) now than Conklin would be at the end of the deal he’s about to sign. This is a cornerstone player and he’s assured an exit from the Titans based on the fact that Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill are among their free agents and they aren’t going to pay $160 million to two tackles.
Signing Conklin now gives the Chargers two of the top tackles in the league, is a massive upgrade over their 2019 situation at right tackle, and locks in a future at left tackle when Russell Okung leaves whether that’s next year or next week. If there is one player to allocate $16 million per year to over the next five years, it’s hard for me to see many players who make a better case than Conklin. Especially for LA.
Chris Jones, DT
There are a couple of guards to consider but none that hit my mark of 26 or younger, so instead I’ll focus on the best non-QB on the market and a player who would transform LA’s front seven.
Jones doesn’t turn 26 until July and I think he has real Defensive Player of the Year vibes in his game. He had 6.5 sacks in 2016 while playing in 62% of the snaps. In only 66% of the snaps in 2018, Jones broke off 15.5 sacks from the inside of Kansas City’s defense. Then last season in 58% of the snaps (three games missed), Jones had nine sacks.
In the last three seasons, as a rotational defensive tackle, Jones had 31 sacks and 62 QB hits, rivaling Aaron Donald as an interior pass rusher. Now picture him next to Joey Bosa.
The Chiefs are likely to give Jones the franchise tag, which hinders the opportunity to sign him not only for obvious reasons but also because KC doesn’t want to see him twice a year within the division. However, the Chiefs are in a cap bind and it is possible that they simply won’t be able to negotiate those waters and will let him walk and await a third round compensatory pick.
Is he worth potentially $18 million AAV or more? For me, the answer is yes. You rarely get to see players that young and at that talent level switch teams and both the Chiefs and Niners made the Super Bowl after taking big swings on pass rushers on the franchise tag whom they traded for.
Justin Simmons, FS
“Free Safety” doesn’t quite hit the need market as hard as the offensive and defensive lines, but signing Simmons does two things:
- Pairs your elite strong safety with the best running mate he’s ever had, a 26-year-old who elevated the Denver Broncos defense last season with 93 tackles, four interceptions, 15 passes defensed, and solid run defense.
- Ensures that one of your division rivals now has its own gap to fill at free safety.
Simmons is a 6’2, 200 lbs safety who was a third round pick out of Boston College in 2016 and he’s quietly risen up each season to become one of the top free safeties in the NFL; QBs had a passer rating of 43.6 on the 53 targets thrown at Simmons in 2019. He picked off Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and was the last person to intercept Marcus Mariota, sending him to the bench one final time.
Eddie Jackson signed a five-year, $58.4 million deal with the Chicago Bears a year ago and that’s where Simmons could slot in next. Simmons turns 27 in November, so I expect his next team to get him on a contract in which he’ll have plenty of prime years left.
These are three of the top free agents on the market and while Jones and Simmons could both be tagged, if either are allowed to talk to other teams sans a trade, then LA could improve their own roster while hurting an opponent.
Are these realistic? In the case of Conklin, I think so. But remember, these aren’t three “realistic” candidates. They’re three ideal candidates. Any of these three would certainly be ideal and the Chargers have the LA market and a $5 billion stadium opening to sell on top of their considerable cap space.