Chargers Free Agency Dilemma: What Happens At Right Tackle?
The first week of free agency has come and gone and the Chargers have made some drastic improvements to the defense by adding a bunch of star talent and fortifying the trenches. It’s been an incredible last 10 days for the team as they look to take that next step into becoming a true contending level team. After signing Gerald Everett on Sunday night, they appear to be shifting their attention to the offense. This is good news because the Chargers do have a glaring hole on the right side of the offensive line after the Bryan Bulaga experiment failed miserably and Storm Norton bottomed out in his stead.
After signing Everett, the Chargers have around $11 million in cap space which is enough spending money to re-sign Oday Aboushi and ensure that right tackle is the only glaring hole along the offensive line. Luckily for the Chargers, a few starting-caliber options were released at the start of free agency. They missed out on former Cowboys starter La’el Collins but it’s been made clear that he basically only had eyes for the Bengals due to his ties there.
Now that Collins has signed, the rest of the tackle market should get moving. I have always felt that the most likely outcome at the right tackle position for the Chargers would be one similar to the one they opted for last year at the guard position when they signed Aboushi and drafted Brenden Jaimes. Still, the lack of movement has left some Chargers fans uneasy, especially with the rest of the AFC West loading up on pass rushers.
Some have speculated that the Chargers will simply run it back with Norton, or hand the reins over to former third-round pick Trey Pipkins after he showed improvement in two spot starts last season. I still tend to think that scenario is unlikely. It is important to remember that money talks louder than any press conference ever can. The Rams had a similar dilemma with the retirement of Andrew Whitworth, and a young player behind him in Joseph Noteboom that had shown flashes in the past. They showed their true belief in him by signing him to a three-year, $40 million extension.
The Chargers elected to use a restricted free agent tender on Norton which will pay him less than a million dollars to be on the roster. This is a clear indication that they do not view him as a true starting-caliber tackle. As for Pipkins, we know that Tom Telesco and the organization are at least high on him (something something “left tackle feet”). We do not know, however, how the coaching staff really views him. They could have easily turned to him to start down the stretch of the season after he filled in adequately for Rashawn Slater and Norton during the Covid games, but they didn’t. He also started out the season as the team’s jumbo package lineman but was removed from that role after a few short games, and didn’t even return that role after playing well in his two starts. So I believe their actions are telling us that these two tackles they have on the roster are not true starting level players. Maybe Pipkins can still become that guy, but not yet.
This is why I’ve always believed they will seek out a stop-gap option, at the very least to provide a legitimate challenger in training camp for the starting position. The free agency market of serviceable options remains open. Riley Reiff, Billy Turner, and Dennis Kelly all have connections to the coaching staff and check the scheme familiarity box. Reiff played in Detroit with Joe Lombardi and Minnesota with Ryan Ficken. Turner and Kelly both played with Kevin Koger (and Corey Linsley) in Green Bay. All three have spent the last few years playing in a Shanahan-esque system.
After mulling on it over the weekend, Turner would probably be my preferred choice at this point. He’s been a legitimate starting tackle for the Packers over the last few seasons and is just 30 years old. By no means is he an elite option, but his 64 total pressures allowed over the last two seasons (30 games played) is a really solid number. Turner has also ranked in the top 10 in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate in both seasons, including third in 2020. For reference’s sake, the Chargers’ right tackle options (Bulaga, Pipkins, Norton) allowed a whopping 115 total pressures in the same time frame. When you put it like that, Turner sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t he?Of course, the Chargers could turn their attention to the draft. After hitting a homerun with Slater last year, they could try their luck again. However, sitting at 17 likely puts them out of range to land Mississippi State’s Charles Cross or Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning – both are considered to be potential top 10 picks at the moment. After Penning there is a severe drop-off at the position. Telesco has shown a willingness to trade up to get his guy so that’s always a possibility, but one that became more difficult after they traded their second-round pick for Khalil Mack last week. Telesco has never traded down, but this might push him to do it for the first time – if right tackle is the priority.
The last possibility is one that Daniel Popper pointed out on Sunday night, and that is kicking Matt Feiler from guard to tackle. Feiler has played right tackle in the past, for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That positional flexibility was one of the things that led the Chargers to sign him in the first place and his pass blocking numbers are basically identical at guard and tackle. I could understand the Chargers pursuing this option due to that flexibility but there are two things that I think would deter them from moving him.
The first is that the Chargers really place an emphasis on creating an environment that allows a player to get into a groove. Feiler’s pass blocking numbers didn’t necessarily improve per se but he did set a career-best mark in run blocking grade, per PFF. I’d hate to take him away from where he is comfortable if he’s really hitting his stride as a player. The second is the continuity between him and Slater. I believe Slater can thrive while playing next to whoever, but why break up something that doesn’t need fixing? Why potentially create another hole?
The other question there is what happens at guard? Is Jaimes ready to take that step? Would they draft a guard at 17? I would much rather prefer to make one signing to plug the hole at right tackle than deal with all of those questions. Hopefully, we get some answers soon enough because right tackle needs to be the next priority.