Good morning, Bolts From the Blue.
Similarly to the article in which I looked at how the defensive back group could look heading into next season, I am going to be looking at the other side of the defense; the front seven. The defense as a whole is currently the third most expensive in the league but in return they are most certainly not playing like a top three defense. The front seven is currently occupying over $70 million of the cap space and whilst they are playing significantly better than the other end of this defense, that is not going to be sustainable now that the ‘All in’ contract implications are settling into place.
Firstly, the biggest consideration to factor into any decision to do with defensive personnel is one we have no way of knowing ahead of time; the scheme. Brandon Staley’s defensive philosophy is most likely not going to be getting another year to consistently let Justin Herbert down, therefore a new scheme is expected to be coming to Costa Mesa for training camp next spring. Now coverages, blitz packages and overall philosophies are all going to influence coveted skill sets however the main adjustment will be if the Chargers decide to change from an odd front into an even one. Staley currently runs a 3-4 (odd) front with two outside linebackers, three defensive lineman and two linebackers in base personnel. It took three years for Staley to get this grouping to where he wanted it to be and if a new defensive coordinator was to attempt to transition to an even front with more of focus on hand-in-the-dirt edge rushers and additional off-ball linebackers, then the roster would need to look very different.
There is a lot to break down here however the headline news is that 11 of the 14 highest snap contributors are under contract with the Chargers next season. Additionally, on the face of things, the three starters who are out of contract could be replaced by young players drafted over the past two seasons. However, this simple assessment does not take into consideration the potential cap casualties heading this way. Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Eric Kendricks are owed just shy of $95 million between them next year and that is not something the Chargers can take on and still field a team capable of making the playoffs. Therefore it is safe to assume that some combination of that group will not be part of the rebuild going forwards.
The BFTB staff will be doing a full detailed breakdown of every player’s future however I share the opinions of many fans that outside linebacker Khalil Mack needs to be extended with the double benefit of lowering his cap hit and ensuring his talents remain in LA and he retires as a Charger. The other outside linebacker, Joey Bosa, may be the only defensive starter under a contract through 2025 however his contract is now at the point where moving him on, by trading or cutting him, makes financial sense especially considering his injury history and I would be keen to see that happen. In my eyes getting any kind of asset in return for him is worth it, even a 2025 7th round pick. This is mainly because of Tuli Tuipulotu, the rookie has been a revelation and the decision to bench him in favor of Joey Bosa on his return from injury is one that still annoys me. His partnership with Khalil Mack is something I have highlighted before and one I’d love to see continue to grow.
For the inside linebackers group I think both starters need to be replaced. To put it simply the minimal impact that Eric Kendricks has made to this defense has not been worth letting go of Drue Tranquill and his cap hit means the team should be looking at Nick Niemann or Daiyan Henley in his spot going forwards. The other starter, Kenneth Murray, is a free agent however his play has improved so if the team can bring him back on an extremely team friendly deal then I’d be on board with that to have some continuity and depth.
The interior defensive line is where the most change is due to happen, the two starters on expiring deals, Nick Williams and Austin Johnson, are unlikely to return as the Bolts drafted both Otito Ogbonnia and Scott Matlock to slowly grow into these roles and replace them. The questions are more about Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox who are on deals the Bolts’ could do without next year. Joseph-Day is more of an early down player and Fox is a pass rushing specialist so to have them both is a great thing however this team will struggle to afford them both without more drastic decisions elsewhere. Can this unit afford to lose all their experienced players at once? An extension is on the cards for Joseph-Day as he still has many years left in him and it could save a good chunk against the cap.
Overall there are a whole plethora of choices to be made by the incoming regime surrounding this front seven. In contrast to a normal offseason, most of the conversations will need to be around the players still under contract due to the consequences of the immensely large investment Tom Telesco made into this season’s defense that just did not pan out.
I’m curious if the BFTB community are in agreeance on who of this talented but struggling defense should be retained, let me know in the comments!
And now, for today’s daily links:
Chargers’ legendary tight end Antonio Gates has been named as a Pro Football Hall of Fame semi finalist for the 2024 class (Chargers.com)
Two other former Chargers were named as semi finalists of the same class; Rodney Harrison and Dwight Freeney (Chargers Wire)
Justin Herbert has revealed the immense level of work he puts in every week (Charger Report by SI)
Brandon Staley once again shows his frustration in response to question about Quentin Johnston’s rib injury (ESPN)
The 25 Pro Football Hall of Fame modern-era semifinalists have been announced for the class of 2024 (NFL.com)
Carolina Panthers’ owner David Tepper stands by the decision to take Bryce Young but oddly admits they almost traded up to number two overall to take C.J. Stroud before their trade with the Chicago Bears (ESPN)
NFL sets Thanksgiving day viewership record for second consecutive year (The Athletic)