NFL

Chargers Bolting Up The Free Agency Leaderboard

Sam Schneider | March 22nd, 2020

A few weeks ago, I did a mock draft here on the Los Angeles Chargers based solely on the positional needs of the team. After several days of free agency, the Chargers instead have set themselves up to draft according to best player available due to several team-altering moves made during that time. They released two captains in Brandon Mebane and Thomas Davis, followed by placing the franchise tag on tight end Hunter Henry. Afterward, they found themselves with just over $50 million to spend in free agency before the draft, on their draft picks, and for any additional adds they need to make later this summer. Thus far, general manager Tom Telesco has delivered.

The Offense

While some fans in Los Angeles may be doing a bit of hand-wringing over the Chargers not going hard for another free agent quarterback after losing out on Tom Brady, Telesco took advantage of the quarterback ‘carousel of distraction’ that many teams were distracted by. He methodically added some extremely strong pieces to a defense that was already quite capable when healthy. Between free agency and the draft, this is a team that could very well finish near the top of the AFC in total defense. Telesco certainly isn’t done tinkering with the offense, so we’ll start with the team’s additions on that side of the ball.

As soon as free agency kicked off, the Chargers were right in on Bryan Bulaga for three years and $30 million, which in today’s market for right tackles is akin to buying a Maserati for the price of a Volkswagen. It was such a quick move and addressed such a serious need that Telesco probably could have thrown his hands up and said, “Thank You, Goodnight Los Angeles!” Okay maybe not, but obviously with all the offensive line buyers on the market, everyone was content to feel out the rates. Instead, the Chargers slapped $30 million down and Bulaga was more than willing to accept and be done with the whole dog and pony show. This was an especially pertinent move because two weeks prior, Telesco agreed to a trade that would send veteran Russell Okung to the Carolina Panthers while the Chargers got a beast of a player in Trai Turner who will play right guard. In Turner, they gain five years of youth, another year under contract, and about $3 million less of a cap hit this season.

The Defense

Los Angeles kept on chuggin’ from there. In the mock draft, I had them going hard on the middle of the line, drafting two potential run-stoppers in April. I didn’t figure on Mebane being much of a help in the twilight of his career and considering his release I guess the Chargers didn’t either. Rather than waiting for the draft to roll around, the Chargers went to the market and came home with an experienced, nasty, and nearly four years younger Linval Joseph on a two-year deal. Joseph can be explosive at times and his technique is well documented; he’s an accomplished run stopper but gets a lot more pressure on the quarterback than other nose tackles around the NFL. This is of importance as the Chargers were often victimized by quarterbacks stepping up when they felt the pressure coming from the edge. It’s also worth noting that you’d be hard-pressed to find a better guy for Jerry Tillery to line up next to as he’s expected to make serious progress during his second year in the league, having had a rough one as a rookie.

Finally, Chargers fans just about fell out of their chairs with glee when they learned that Chris Harris Jr had turned down division rival Las Vegas Raiders’ three-year offer to take two years and $20.5 million to join the Chargers. Harris teamed with Aqib Talib and others to lead the Denver Broncos’ “No Fly Zone” for numerous years before the Broncos began moving pieces. Harris held out for a short time in 2019 but was not given a new contract. Now he’ll line up with Casey Hayward, Derwin James and Desmond King to create another formidable defensive backfield. As of right now, the jury appears to be out on where exactly Harris will line up. He does his finest work as a slot corner but spent a couple years in Denver playing on the outside and is more than willing to do so. He has said in the past that he’d like to be the guy that his team calls upon to cover the opposition’s best receiver. Normally, that’s Hayward’s job but if you can get two guys like that on the field at once it would reduce a lot of running around and changing coverages. This is creating one of the very best defensive backfields in the NFL in a day and age that teams are throwing more and more often.

What’s Next

On the defensive side, if L.A. can stay injury-free, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. They didn’t get much younger thus far in free agency, but the mix of age and veteran leadership seems to be the perfect elixir to turn the tide of games in their direction. Offensively, you already know that Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon are gone. Austin Ekeler has been extended and as of this moment, Tyrod Taylor has the reigns. Whether they add a quarterback further along in free agency (doubtful) or the draft (probable) remains to be seen. Certainly, there are quarterbacks worth drafting and letting learn behind Taylor for some or all of the coming season. Of course, they’ve already completely secured the right side of the offensive line which would be the blind-side for an (ahem) left-handed quarterback. The Chargers have the sixth overall pick in the upcoming draft, and we’ll have a revised mock leading into it.

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