Chargers Free Agency Preview: Value Targets
Tom Telesco and Brandon Staley kicked off the offseason with a bang this week by re-signing Mike Williams to a two-year, $60 million deal and trading a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick for Khalil Mack. They will absorb the rest of Mack’s salary. After the two moves, the Chargers have $24.56 million in cap space before cutting Bryan Bulaga, which will free up $10.75 million in space.
Several media members are reporting that they are not done spending big, and that might include signing Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson – which our Ryan Dyrud is convinced will happen at this point. If that is the case, the Chargers will then have to turn their attention towards signings that are more on the value side of things. I wrote about some potential defensive tackle targets earlier, so I won’t be including any of them here, although I do think the Mack trade increases the chances of Justin Jones being kept since Uchenna Nwosu won’t be returning.
Lorenzo Carter – New York Giants
I think by now, we’ve learned to listen closely when Brandon Staley speaks. During his in-season Wednesday press conferences, media members would ask Staley about things that stood out about each opposing team. When asked about the Giants, he went out of his way to specifically mention Carter and that really stuck out to me because he is a relatively unknown player.
Knowing Staley, this probably went back to his own draft work on Carter – a former Georgia Bulldog, which is also an important connection given Staley’s affinity for that program. Carter missed most of the season in 2020 but in his last two healthy seasons, he amassed 66 total pressures and 11 sacks. The Chargers will need a reliable third edge rusher behind their two stars and Carter checks a lot of boxes. PFF values him at a two-year, $8 million deal.
Takkarist McKinley – Cleveland Browns
Another stand-out press conference mention from Staley is McKinley, who certainly did not pan out to be worth his former first-round draft slot for the Atlanta Falcons, but is a solid third pass rusher in his own right. He added 25 total pressures and three sacks for the Cleveland Browns this year in a very limited role behind their two-star pass rushers, he actually ranked higher in pass rush win rate than Jadeveon Clowney last season. He’d be a solid low-risk, low-cost signing – PFF has him at a one-year, $4 million evaluation. He’s also a former UCLA guy and we know how Telesco likes that.
Bobby McCain – Washington Commanders
I believe the Chargers need to add some competition into the safety room, and would prefer it to be through free agency. We simply cannot trust Alohi Gilman or Mark Webb, even though both players are somewhat intriguing. So I think they need a reliable veteran to serve as a deep safety in “designer looks” to allow Derwin James and Nasir Adderley to hunt around the line of scrimmage. McCain fits that bill, and can likely be had for the vet minimum. Renaldo Hill was his position coach in Miami, where he started his career as a slot corner so he also provides versatility.
Anthony Harris – Philadelphia Eagles
This is another player in a similar vein as McCain. Just a really solid veteran presence who could come in and bring good value to this team as a third safety. He’s probably better than McCain at this point in that deep safety role but doesn’t have a direct tie to the Chargers defensive staff. He did, however, spend the first six years of his career in Minnesota, with new special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken. He also played this past season under Staley’s best friend in Philadelphia. He’d probably cost a little more than McCain though.
Tyrell Crosby – Detroit Lions
The Chargers have had some good luck recently with former Lions and former Oregon Ducks, so why not take another swing with Crosby? In all seriousness, they have to do something to upgrade their right tackle spot and the chances of that happening in the draft appear to be slim right now. They could be in play for a more established veteran like Morgan Moses or Riley Reiff, but Crosby is on my radar as well.
He was a very solid starting right tackle for the Lions in 2019 and 2020, only allowing a combined 41 pressures across those two seasons – which is 19 fewer than Storm Norton allowed in 2021 alone. Crosby missed the entire 2021 season with a back injury which is always risky for offensive linemen but after Moses and Reiff (who might be too pricey) the veteran right tackle market is pretty underwhelming.
Dennis Kelly – Green Bay Packers
The Chargers love them some former Packers, don’t they? Kelly is a tier down from Crosby for me, because I believe that Crosby could be a multi-year starter for the Chargers if he’s cleared medically. Kelly would still be a more reliable option than Norton, but he’s never been a clear-cut starter in the NFL.
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Gerald Everett – Seattle Seahawks
I’m surprised at how little buzz there is on the free-agent tight end regarding the Chargers after Telesco pretty much admitted they’re looking to add a veteran to support Donald Parham and Tre McKitty. The defensive focus likely takes them out of the Zach Ertz or Rob Gronkowski range, but I do think someone like Everett could be cheap enough.
He was on the Rams in 2020 with Staley, and there is a lot of schematic familiarities there. Everett is definitely not as reliable as Ertz or Gronkowski, but he’s a decent option and he has that slot versatility the Chargers seem to want. He totaled 48 catches, 478 yards, and four touchdowns in 2021. PFF has a three year, $22 million evaluation on him right now but that’s a little high in my opinion.
Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts
Signing a veteran free agent running back is always risky, and the Chargers are likely priced out of the James Conner or Cordarrelle Patterson markets at this point. They’re probably looking at supplementary backs on the vet minimum, and I don’t think many of them present the same kind of upside as Mack. He has barely seen the field since he tore his Achilles in 2019 and the Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor, but the last time we saw him healthy he was a 1,000 yard rusher. I’m sure I don’t have to remind any of you how much he shredded the Chargers defense on opening weekend that year. Signing someone with his injury background isn’t ideal but I’d rather roll the dice with Mack than run it back with Joshua Kelley or Larry Rountree at this point.