Chargers Top Free Agent Targets
By all accounts, the 2019-2020 season for the Los Angeles Chargers was a total bust. They went a lowly 5-11 after a lot of people (myself included), picked them to be a dark horse Super Bowl contender. To end up behind the Raiders in your division is disappointing to say the least.
The Chargers were highlighted by the number six overall defense in terms of yardage in the NFL with 313 per game; at the same time though they were the tied for 22nd in scoring overall with roughly 21 points per game.
We now know that the soon to be HOF quarterback Philip Rivers is headed towards free agency. So we can effectively say this offseason is probably going to be one of the most important that the team has had in a long time. Some huge changes are along the way. After analyzing where the Chargers struggled the most last season, and the available players in the free-agent market place (as a reference, I used madden ratings to determine quality) and draft strengths I have come up with a list of guys I think they should be targeting.
The Chargers currently have roughly $52 million in cap space out of the possible $200 million, so with some wiggle room and hopefully a few expensive veteran players on their way out, the Chargers might be able to have a successful offseason.
The positions I identified, as needing the most help were OL, LB, DT, TE, and RB, in that order. But with the draft shaping up to change the outlooks of teams, I ranked my free agents in order of need and draft availability.
It is my opinion that the Chargers roll with the Quarterbacks currently in-house (Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick) and then select a QB in the first round of the 2020 draft, so I will not be addressing any free agent quarterbacks.
1. Jordan Howard – RB
As many of you might remember, the Chargers seemed to have a bit of an issue at running back last year. With Melvin Gordon holding out for about half the season, the offense really struggled to get on track without the consistency of the run game behind it. I’m with the Chargers for not overpaying the RB spot, their injury history risk is so much higher than most positions in the league. But they can’t afford to take a hit to the run game like they did last year.
Especially when they have the option to get an effective piece for not nearly as much as Gordon will surely demand. Originally, the need for the position was lower but being that this draft is worse than most years at RB, and with the available options in free agency currently, the Chargers need to just go get their guy. While Austin Ekeler was totally brilliant and by all accounts should be coming back next season, the team is now going to be lacking a true between the tackles type of guy and Ekeler and Howard would have combined to make $1.2 million last season. This number will rise for Ekeler, but could still get both at a bargain.
The nice thing about Howard is how constantly overlooked he is. He’s not a big pass-catching guy, so his pay scale shouldn’t go up too fast and Miles Sanders became the guy for the Eagles last season. Meaning the Chargers can go get a guy that will compliment Ekeler well, cost them less than a lot of premium guys available, and get someone who has had two 1,000 yard rushing and nine TD seasons. All at the ripe age of 25 years old.
It’s a short draft class this year, but if the Chargers are going to spend a pick high, it’s probably going to be at QB. I can’t see them using a heavy pick at RB, but if they’re going to do it you’d like to see them grab someone like Jonathan Taylor that’s just going to get the job done. Doesn’t hurt he’s another Wisconsin alum just to rub salt in it.
2. Blake Jarwin – TE
Hunter Henry is a stud. And one of my favorite players to watch the last few years, an 87 overall in Madden. But he’s injury-prone, and there’s no debating that anymore.
Tight end is going to be a weak position in this year’s draft and while pass-catching may not seem at a premium right now whoever is going to take over at QB is going to need as much help as possible. And at the same time, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams can’t seem to stay on the field either.
Insert Blake Jarwin. The Cowboys seem to have zero commitment to the TE position, routinely bringing back Jason Witten every few years. To think they might let Jarwin walk, at the right price doesn’t seem unheard of. He’s a 75 overall, 26 years of age, and makes about the same amount of money that Sean Culkin currently does for the Chargers. Culkin caught one pass for 12 yards last year.
Jarwin didn’t always play much, he caught for almost 600 yards and six touchdowns the last two years while starting only 11 games.
The Chargers could do much worse than that to grow alongside Henry. A draft pick that doesn’t break the bank but still has a nice floor to allow Henry to take time off like Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, would allow a player like Jarwin to flourish.
3. Javon Hargraves – DT
The sticker shock is going to throw some people off here. Hargrave is currently making $778K a year right now. For a player who Madden currently rates at 81, and has been in the league three years, this means a huge payday ahead. We’re looking at probably $15 million a year.
But the Chargers have struggled for years at the position and to defend the run up the middle. They attempted to address this in the draft with Justin Jones, and using a first-round selection on Jerry Tillery last year, and signed Brandon Mebane a few years back. Jones and Tillery have both flashed, and while Mebane may have once been useful, he’s in the latter half of his career.
The Chargers have a superstar loaded set of DE’s in Bosa and Ingram. Getting a guy that fits in there right away and will probably make this a top 5 front 7 in the league should be a no brainer. Because clearly the idea that any large guy can plug up the middle of the line isn’t working when you’re giving up 112 yards a game on the ground.
Assuming they can’t get Hargraves, or that there are no significant draft day trades, I’d like to see the Chargers put some stock in this spot without giving up a premium pick. Justin Madubuike from Texas A&M comes to mind when thinking of someone who could outplay their draft value.
4. Josh Wells – OT
This is going to appear like I’m dumpster diving to a point, and maybe I am. But the Chargers have a ton of young guys, and they’re walking into a draft class that is loaded with 1st and 2nd round talent at OL. They’re still slightly stuck in the mud when it comes to right and left tackle though.
At 29 and a rating of 66, he’s had enough experience to be someone who can plug and play whenever they might need someone. He has an outside shot to be a starter, but is probably best reserved as a depth guy. Which is perfectly fine, because they can go grab a stud in the 2nd round. All at the same time not having to pay some of the outrageous prices that come with the tackle position. I could see the Chargers nabbing someone in the second tier like Austin Jackson out of USC, or Shane Lemieux out of Oregon.
5. De’Vondre Campbell – OLB
The draft is loaded with mid-tier guys for the Chargers to go and pluck value out of. They have also put a lot of stock into Perryman and Nwosu, two young guys with talent but who aren’t always at the top of their game.
Campbell comes in as a guy who is making less than $1 million a year, is 27, and had more than 100 tackles last season. He can come in and be a difference-maker right now, but it also shouldn’t be too hard to faze him out with younger guys behind him. All while not breaking the bank too badly, and putting pressure on the guys already there. Oh did I mention he’s rated 76 overall? Definitely not a bad guy to have in your lineup.
A safe floor in later rounds, David Woodward out of Utah State comes to mind for the Chargers in this spot draft wise.