Eight Potential Free Agent Targets For The Chargers
The new league year for the NFL is just over a month away. This is the prime time of the offseason. The Chargers head into this offseason with a ton of excitement surrounding its organization due to the newly dubbed Rookie Of The Year in Justin Herbert, and a new head coach who genuinely seems to be a budding star in the coaching world. We will have you covered throughout this entire process with prospect profiles, mock drafts, and free agency breakdowns.
Everyone and their dog knows that the Chargers have to invest in the offensive line this year. I’ve written extensively about their struggles so if you’re reading this you are well versed in the metrics that paint a rather ugly picture for that unit. That’s where the focus of this article will take place, but I will also mention a few other potential free agent targets that would be very beneficial signings too. (I will be writing a separate article about the potential signings the Chargers could steal from the Rams.)
The first step in solving the Chargers offensive line woes is cutting guard Trai Turner. When the Chargers announced that trade, it was generally viewed as a win-win for both teams. The Panthers wanted to get a veteran to hold down the fort at left tackle, and the Chargers wanted to get younger and more talented on the interior. Turner had been to the Pro Bowl several times and seemed to bring the kind of aggressive mentality that the Chargers were lacking in 2019. Unfortunately, it seems like the trade turned into a lose-lose. Russell Okung only started and finished four games. Turner only started and finished six games. Both teams also struggled to have adequate depth behind the two veteran players and their offensive lines suffered.
Beyond the struggles with health, Turner never really seemed to find a groove in Los Angeles. He looked slow and didn’t bring the same tenacious attitude that he was known for in Carolina. Pro Football Focus’ grading system is hardly the end-all-be-all of player evaluation, but it is notable that only two guards in the entire NFL finished with a lower grade than Turner. Cutting him is a no brainer, especially because the Chargers would save $11 million by doing so.
I do expect general manager Tom Telesco to try and fill that void in free agency. Chargers fans have already been clamoring for Joe Thuney on social but I do not expect him to leave New England anytime soon. The Patriots’ offense does not have a lot of talent in general, and they can’t really afford to let their best player walk for nothing. He played on the franchise tag this past season, and I think the Patriots could try to tag him again while they work out a new deal.
That being said, let’s get started on six other potential free agent targets for the Chargers.
Chargers potential free-agent target #1: Larry Warford – Interior Offensive Lineman
The Saints released Warford back in May of last year in an effort to free up some much-needed cap space after drafting Cesar Ruiz in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Warford then opted out of the season, along with so many other veteran players. Warford is only 29 years old and since he didn’t play in the 2020 season, he will only have seven seasons of wear and tear on his body.
He made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons in New Orleans and was always a very effective player. Since entering the league in 2013 here is where he has stacked up among all guards in terms of PFF grading system: 2013 – 5th, 2014 – 27th, 34th, 2016 – 13th, 2017 – 21st, 2018, 19th, and 2019 – 11th.
If Warford had been on the Chargers in previous years he would have easily been their best offensive lineman. An important factor here is Joe Lombardi, the new Chargers offensive coordinator. Warford has spent five of his seven seasons playing for teams that also employed Lombardi. The Detroit Lions hired Lombardi in 2014 after Warford had just finished up his rookie season. He then signed with the Saints in 2017, a year after Lombardi returned to New Orleans. No one knows exactly what kind of system the Chargers are going to run, but it’s safe to assume it will have roots in New Orleans, and Warford was clearly a great fit in it.
The #Bears need aggression back in the O-Line. Last year, they were incredibly soft
Between always falling down, completely whiffing on blocks, pulling too late. It was bad, just watch the tape
Larry Warford will instantly bring that aggression back…
— Austin F (@PodGuyFuges) May 9, 2020
Chargers potential free-agent target #2: Jon Feliciano – Interior Offensive Lineman
This would have been a no brainer if the Chargers had hired Brian Daboll, but I think it would still make a lot of sense for them. Feliciano has been a bit of a swiss army knife for the Bills over the last two seasons since coming over from the then Oakland Raiders. He’s started games at all three interior spots in his time in Buffalo.
His presence has provided stability and versatility to that unit, and frankly, the Chargers need a player like that. Throughout the season the Chargers had six players take snaps at right guard while Turner dealt with various injuries. What’s crazy is that the sixth man (Cole Toner) ended up being the best option.
Felciano wouldn’t be as high profile as Warford, but he was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and has developed into a very solid professional in Buffalo. He’s graded out as an above-average player on PFF as well, earning grades of 64.8 and 63.1 over the last two seasons.
Chargers potential free-agent target #3: Denzelle Good – Interior Offensive Lineman
Yes, another interior offensive lineman makes the list. Good was a seventh-round draft pick back in 2015 by the Indianapolis Colts and has never been a perceived pre-season starter in his career. He was signed in Las Vegas to provide depth behind Gabe Jackson and Richie Incognito, who were the two starters at guard. He started four games in 2019, two at left guard and two at right guard.
This year, however, he started sixteen games – including three at right tackle – while the Raiders dealt with various injuries to Incognito and Trent Brown. Like Feliciano, he was able to show off some versatility this year for the Raiders. His play was good enough to earn a pay bigger than the Raiders can give him, and he would be a good fit in Los Angeles. The Chargers have not confirmed the hiring of Frank Smith as the offensive line coach, but that was the reported hiring a few weeks ago and Smith has obviously spent the last two seasons in Las Vegas with Good.
As mentioned earlier, Denzelle Good and this mammoth Raiders OL wore down the Browns defensive front (45 carries, 208 yards). Good had defenders on ⛸️⛸️ pic.twitter.com/elYX8j2BzL
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 2, 2020
Chargers potential free-agent target #4: Jeremiah Attaochu – Outside Linebacker
Back in 2014, the Chargers drafted Attaochu in an effort to pair Melvin Ingram with an ideal Batman to his Robin as they looked to create a lethal pass-rushing tandem. Clearly, that didn’t work out the way everyone would have hoped. Attaochu was not retained for a second contract. It wasn’t all bad for the Chargers because that resulted in them drafting Joey Bosa in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Attaochu spent one season with the New York Jets after leaving the Chargers but was barely able to crack the rotation. He signed with the Denver Broncos prior to the 2018 season and under Brandon Staley’s tutelage, experienced a mini-renaissance as a rotational pass rusher. He’s accumulated nine sacks and 35 pressures over the past two seasons serving as a backup to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
The Chargers will be making a transition to a 3-4 defense and will need to add a few athletic outside linebackers to the roster in order to do so. Bosa will likely be rotating all over the line in order to seek out one on one matchups, similar to what Staley did with Aaron Donald last year. If the season started today, the Chargers would have Uchenna Nwosu and Emeke Egbule penciled in as the two starting outside linebackers. Adding a decent rotational piece like Attaochu and potentially a future draft pick to that group could be a reasonable path forward for the Chargers.
Chargers potential free-agent target #5: Justin Houston – Edge Rusher
The same kind of logic for Attaochu applies to potentially sign a veteran pass rusher like Houston. The Chargers cannot head into a new defensive scheme with their same group of pass rushers. Regardless of health issues, the pass rush essentially fell off a cliff when Bosa was not healthy.
Houston has been one of the most consistent edge rushers of his generation. The former Georgia standout has reached double-digit sacks in seven of his nine seasons. The Chiefs thought they were getting a younger, and better pass rusher when they acquired Frank Clark two years ago. That has been proven to not be true. Houston has been a great presence for the Colts and has accumulated 94 pressures and 21 sacks over the last two years. And he just might have priced himself out of Indianapolis, especially considering the Colts could be acquiring a very expensive quarterback in the next few weeks.
Houston and Ingram are the same age, so I would understand the hesitation about signing a player over the age of 30 to replace another player over the age of 30, but Houston is still a highly productive player, unlike Ingram.
Chargers potential free-agent target #6: Jamaal Williams – Running Back
The future of the Chargers running back room beyond Austin Ekeler is rather underwhelming. Justin Jackson has been incredibly effective when he’s been on the field. The problem is that he simply cannot seem to stay on the field. The selection of Joshua Kelley in last year’s draft is one that will always haunt me. They had several other more pressing needs to address, including the aforementioned offensive line. Selecting a running back in that instance, especially after trading their third-round pick to move up and get Kenneth Murray, was flat out foolish. It didn’t help when Kelley was essentially benched for Kalen Ballage, who was an extremely inefficient runner after his Chargers debut against the Raiders.
They might be stuck with the trio of Ekeler, Jackson, and Kelley for another year. They could certainly draft a running back to be a little more proactive in solving the problem. But the bottom line is that they have to do something. One of the reasons Herbert had to throw so much is that the Chargers rushing attack without Ekeler was utterly atrocious. Can they count on Jackson to say healthy? Will Kelley really improve that much in year two? Those are big enough concerns to prompt me towards the potential of signing a free agent like Williams.
Cutting Jackson would barely save the Chargers any money since his contract is only worth $900,000. But freeing up a roster spot for someone like Williams could make a lot of sense. The Packers have a big offseason coming up, with a lot of key pending free agents. Corey Linsley, Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard, Aaron Jones, and Williams are all headed for free agency. They cannot afford to bring all of those players back, and after drafting AJ Dillon in the second round last year they might have no choice but to let Jones and Williams sign elsewhere. Williams has never been a featured back but he’s versatile and well-rounded and would be a great compliment to Ekeler. He also appears to be a great fit for what the Chargers will be running on offense and has a relationship with the team’s new tight ends coach – Kevin Koger.
Chargers potential free-agent target #7: Kendrick Bourne – Wide Receiver
The 49ers have one of the better rosters in the league, led by Nick Bosa and George Kittle. They also will head into the 2021 offseason with a lot of question marks, headlined by the quarterback position. They have been linked to Deshaun Watson and inquired about Matthew Stafford. It’s clear they are looking to upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo. It is sure to be an expensive journey.
They will need to re-sign Trent Williams after proving he is still one of the best left tackles in the league last year. They also have to figure out what they’re doing with Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett, who experienced a major resurgence in 2020. Right now they are only projected to have around 14 or 15 million dollars in cap space, and while many teams have figured out ways to manipulate the cap, that hardly leaves the 49ers with a lot of cash and Bourne might be a casualty of that lack of space.
They placed a second-round tender on Bourne, a former undrafted free agent from Eastern Washington after he proved to be a really nice rotational wide receiver during their run to the Super Bowl last year. However, as they dealt with various injuries to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kittle, Bourne became one of the team’s most consistent weapons. He finished the season second in receiving yards, trailing only Aiyuk. He’s also been one of their best players in the red zone and on third down, both areas where the Chargers could certainly use more weapons.
The Chargers don’t need a wide receiver bad enough to invest in an expensive free agent or to spend an early-round draft pick on one, but they could stand to add some more talent to the room, and taking a chance on someone like Bourne makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t hurt that he is familiar with the team’s new quarterbacks coach – Shane Day.
Chargers potential free-agent target #8: Zane Gonzalez – Kicker
The Chargers have a kicking problem. Wait, what year is it?
In all seriousness, the Chargers absolutely have to bring in another kicker to at least provide some competition for Michael Badgley. The unfortunate reality is that there isn’t an obvious upgrade. They could certainly sign a rookie as a priority free agent, or bring in a veteran.
However, Gonzalez has an established relationship with the new Special Teams Coordinator Derius Swinton II. At first glance, it might not seem like Gonzalez is that much of an upgrade over Badgley. In fact, they have the exact same kicking percentage from last season at 72.9. Badgley finished the season 24-33 on field goals, and Gonzalez finished 16-22. A stat that really shows how much more aggressive the Cardinals were on fourth down than the Chargers were. Badgley was 36-39 on extra points, and Gonzalez was 38-39.
The biggest difference between the two is that Gonzalez seems to be much more reliable from 50 yards and beyond. This is something that has constantly been a problem for Badgley over the last few seasons, Badgley has only made three such kicks out of nine attempts (33%) over the last three seasons. Gonzalez on the other hand has made eight out of thirteen attempts (61%) from long-distance so far in his four-year career.
The Chargers likely are not going to get a huge upgrade over Badgley, great kickers rarely come available. But Gonzalez is a little more reliable from 50 yards and that should at least earn him an invitation to camp.
The Chargers are in a good cap situation, but I think the focus of that will be on re-signing Hunter Henry and Michael Davis. The “big name” addition that fans might want probably won’t happen, unless it comes from Staley’s former team. (More on that later.) But I do believe each of the players mentioned above would be very good signings, and all of them except for Feliciano do have built-in connections to the Chargers’ new staff, which is always important to free agents.