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Chargers 2021 free agent review: Part 1

Who should stay and who may see the door in March?

New York Jets v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Chargers have a handful of notable free agents that are set to hit the market this month and it’s time to take a deeper look at all of them. This one got long, so let’s just dive right in, shall we?

(Note: Age is how old they will be during the 2021 season.)

P Ty Long (ERFA) - Age 28
2020 stats: (16 starts) 57 punts, 46.8 average, long of 63, three blocked punts

Of course we’re going to kick this off with a player at the least exciting position on the team since that means things can only get more interesting from here!

Long has been with the Bolts for the past two seasons, averaging 46.9 yards per punt over 105 attempts. During the 2019 season, Long took over kickoff and field goals while Michael Badgley dealt with a linger groin injury that kept him sidelined for half of the season. During that time, Long made seven-of-nine field goals, missing his only two kicks in the frustrating loss to Detroit early that year.

Long had three punts blocked but the blocking in front of him was dismal at best. As a former punter, I consistently thought he was taking forever to get the ball out but I’m not entirely sure how he was getting coached. Some punters take two steps before kicking and some take one. I was a one-stepper and Long was probably a two-stepper. At the same time, you gotta be able to catch and kick while keeping an eye on the players ahead of you. If you sense immediate pressure, you have to speed up your process. If not, then you risk kicks getting blocked like they did.

Unless Brandon Staley truly wants to do a bit of house-cleaning, then I expect Long back with the Chargers next season. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the team bring in some competition for both him and Badgley after last season’s struggles.

OG Forrest Lamp (UFA) - Age 27
2020 stats: (16 starts) 100 percent snaps of the played, one penalty

After three excruciating years for Lamp, he finally managed to crack the starting lineup in 2020. But the positive news doesn’t stop there. Lamp didn’t just play in all 16 games, he played every single one of the offense’s snaps this year. 100 percent. He didn’t miss a single snap for a nick, bruise, or ache.

In his first real year in the NFL, Lamp wasn’t all that great. He was “fine”, if I had to put a word on it. However, one year on a bad offensive line is not how we need to evaluate Lamp when it comes to his future with this team. In fact, of the three starters from 2020 that are set to be free agents (Lamp, Feeney, Tevi), Lamp at least doesn’t have more than one year of being less-than-ideal.

Feeney and Tevi each have one decent season to their name. Does make either of them worth a new contract? I’m not so sure. Lamp’s injury history will make him the cheapest option to return as a starter on this line. I think that’s the way the Chargers go, as well.

CB Tevaughn Campbell (ERFA) - Age 28
2020 stats: (14 games, two starts) 22 total tackles, three pass breakups, one interceptions, one touchdown, one forced fumble

Campbell was a project player that Anthony Lynn and his former staff believed to have had potential as a former standout in the CFL. He floated around the bottom of the depth chart in 2020 until injuries started piling up ahead of him. With Chris Harris Jr. and Brandon Facyson sidelined, with Desmond King recently traded to the Titans, Campbell stepped in as the team’s primary nickel corner in four starts. Against the Jets, he picked off a Joe Flacco pass near the end zone and returned it for his first touchdown and interception at the professional level.

Campbell may have showed enough to stick around at the bottom of the chart or on the practice squad in 2021, but he may also be one of those guys that was in favor with the old staff that won’t necessarily have the same situation with Brandon Staley and company. At his age, there’s not much to bank on there in terms of upside anymore. I’d expect Staley to make an aggressive push at making the group a younger one.

OG/C Dan Feeney (UFA) - Age 27
2020 stats: (16 starts) 100 percent of the snaps played, two penalties

Unlike every other offensive lineman with the Chargers, Feeney has essentially been the picture of consistency. After earning the starting right guard spot as a rookie due in part to injuries involving former guard Matt Slauson, Feeney displayed all the talent and potential the team saw during the 2017 pre-draft process.

However, the past three seasons have unfortunately shown nothing in the way of tangible progression. Since last season was his first at the center position, we can take it with a grain of salt, but his 2018 and 2019 seasons at left guard were some of the worst campaigns among all players at the position. In 2018 alone, Feeney ranked 71st out of 72 qualifying guards in overall grade by Pro Football Focus. In 2019, Feeney’s game grade against the Titans was was sub 10.0. For context, a 60.0 grade is considered “average.”

At the end of the day, if Feeney was able to stay as healthy as he has, he may have lost his starting position sometime before now. Of the three starting lineman set to be free agents this month, I think Feeney should be third in priority behind both Lamp and Sam Tevi. Tevi finally showed improvement at a new position, Lamp finally stayed healthy for an entire season, and I believe both offer more upside right now than Feeney, who seems to be plateauing as of late.

Addressing the center position going forward, I think signing a Corey Linsley or a David Andrews in free agency is the best move for the team.

OT Sam Tevi (UFA) - Age 27
2020 stats: (14 starts) 87 percent of the snaps played, five penalties

Tevi stepped in as the team’s starting left tackle and displayed tangible improvement. He wasn’t nearly as beatable as when he played right tackle the past two seasons and that’s nothing but a big positive. He’s always had the athleticism, but his nuance and fundamentals for the position have been questionable.

At 27 years old, he’s still young enough to invest in, but I don’t think a new deal automatically means he’s the starter. He has certainly deserved the opportunity to return and compete, but he’d best be used as a swing tackle with the way he’s able to pull out into space and lead block for ball carriers out on the edge.

Most fans will want to see the team cut bait with the majority of the current offensive lineman on the team after years of underwhelming play, but that’s not realistic. Expect at least a couple players to be signed as depth pieces and/or competitors for a starting job in 2021.

DE Isaac Rochell (RFA) - Age 26
2020 stats: (16 games, six starts) 29 total tackles, one tackle-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, one pass deflection

Rochell has become a fan favorite over the past four seasons thanks to his contagious energy and outgoing personality off the field. He has a respectable social media following and also co-hosts a podcast for the team with kicker Michael Badgley.

On the field, Rochell has shown to be a consistent player on the edge but hasn’t been able to break through to the next level in regards to his play. His best season came in 2018 when Joey Bosa missed the majority of the season and Rochell was able to record a career-high five sacks and six tackles-for-loss. Since, he’s record just 3.5 over the past two seasons, and that includes six starts he earned in 2020 in place of Ingram.

Rochell is likely re-signed as a depth piece for an already weak position group, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the new staff make some moves to move on from some of the players drafted in the Anthony Lynn era. In the end, Rochell is a buy-low depth piece for the Chargers should they choose to go that route.

RB Kalen Ballage (UFA) - Age 26
2020 stats: (Eight games, two starts) 88 attempts, 290 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, 20 receptions, 99 receiving yards

Ballage was a breath of fresh air for the Chargers offense following Austin Ekeler’s severe hamstring injury he sustained in Week 4’s matchup against the Bucs. After struggling to find a foothold with the Dolphins or the Jets, Ballage looked to run with a little extra motivation in a Chargers uniform, earning him starts over Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley. He finished the season with 290 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go with and additional 99 receiving yards. Once Ekeler returned, Ballage still saw time as the backup, but his efficiency took a hit.

At 26 years old, there’s still plenty of potential and talent, but is he he worth keeping over Kelley who is on a rookie contract? There’s also the matter of Justin Jackson, who is set to make $920,000 this season. In my gut, I think Ballage is the odd man out as the team attempts to spend their money wisely in a pivotal offseason.

S Rayshawn Jenkins (UFA) - Age 27
2020 stats: (15 games, 15 starts) 84 total tackles, four tackles-for-loss, one sack, four pass breakups, two interceptions

After playing in a backup role his first two seasons in Los Angeles, Jenkins has started 31 of the Chargers’ last 32 games, posting five total interceptions and eight bass breakups over that span. In 2020, Jenkins held down the the strong safety role once against with Derwin James sidelined for the year and did his best to be the versatile piece DJ is when healthy. He finished the season with a career-high in both tackles (84) and tackles-for-loss (four).

While playing up near the line of scrimmage, it was no surprise he was around the ball so much more than in year’s past. He still recorded a career-high in missed tackles with 11, but his missed tackle percentage did see a small decrease from 12.9 percent to 11.6.

In coverage, Jenkins was just okay, He allowed 42 receptions on 64 targets his way, per Pro Football Reference, and gave up a pair of touchdowns. I do have to state, however, that Jenkins settled down a bit in the second half of the season, limiting yards after the catch much better than he did early on.

Jenkins has some of the best hops on the team and offers one of the best athletic profiles on the roster. I thought he played better at strong than free safety, but with James returning in 2021, he’ll see a shit back to free safety, more than likely. But then that begs the question of what will happen to Nasir Adderley and his playing time? I guess time will have to tell whether Staley can work his magic by not only getting them all on the field, but getting Nas and Jenkins to take their games progression even further.

Finally, I believe Jenkins has his worth but I would much rather see the Chargers add a John Johnson III to play the free safety spot in 2021. If they both would command roughly the same amount of money in free agency, I think Johnson is the guy.

TE Stephen Anderson (RFA) - Age 28
2020 stats: (16 games, three starts) Eight receptions, 106 receiving yards

Anderson’s addition to the Chargers at the start of the 2019 season didn’t raise a lot of eye brows. He was a veteran who saw some decent success with the Texans as a former undrafted free agent in 2016 and ‘17 before spending the 2018 season with the Patriots.

I liked the move initially because I believed the Chargers were missing that H-Back/”move” tight end that they haven’t really had for some time. Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, and Sean Culkin were all traditional “Y” players and none offered anything that the other two didn’t.

When given the chance in 2020 after injuries to both Green, and then Henry later on, Anderson played like a man with something to prove. Despite having just eight receptions on the year, some of those catches were monster efforts in the YAC department. He looked like a freight train half the time, and that same effort showed up occasionally as a run blocker.

I’d personally love to see Anderson back with the Chargers in 2021. I think he’s a very capable backup that showed enough to stick around into the new regime, whether or not Henry is re-signed.