Former Brandon Staley Pupils That Could Be Future Chargers
Connection to a former coach on any given staff can often be a driving force behind players’ decisions to sign with teams in free agency. The Chargers saw this come to fruition with Chris Harris, who wanted to reunite with Ron Milus, and Bryan Bulaga, who wanted to reunite with James Campen. Obviously, both of those coaches are no longer on the Chargers, and fans’ opinions on those players have soured a bit after last season. However, it is still possible that the two veteran players return good value from their contracts and it is unlikely they struggle as mightily with health next season.
The Chargers obviously have a revamped coaching staff, and I did mention six possible connections to potential free agents earlier this week, but today’s focus will be on the built-in connections from head coach Brandon Staley. He’s obviously only been in the NFL for a few years but there are several connections out there that he could possibly exploit. I’ll cover a few options from each of his previous three stops.
John Johnson – Safety
This connection feels like the safest bet to be a future Charger of all of the former Staley connections. Johnson and Staley have a great relationship. The former Boston College standout was the primary play-caller for Staley’s defense with the Rams last season.
There’s a great story out there about Staley expressing his gratitude into Johnson’s helmet as the time wound down on the Rams season a few weeks ago. Staley’s stamp of approval for his familiarity with the system he wants to run, and for Johnson’s ability as a leader and communicator is going to carry a lot of weight, and it should.
Johnson could be due a big payday, but with the cap expected to be set at $181 million, instead of $175 million will help the Chargers get this deal done. And not re-signing Rayshawn Jenkins means they will have plenty of space.
The potential signing of Johnson checks a lot of boxes for Staley and the Chargers, but it also gives them a high-level insurance policy should Derwin James not be able to shed the injury bug that has plagued his career so far throughout his football career. Johnson is not James, but he is much closer to James than Jenkins, Nasir Adderley, or Alohi Gilman will ever be.
The Rams mixed up coverages quite often under Staley, but they almost always had five defensive backs on the field. Signing Johnson gives the Chargers a ton of options that would help everyone involved. He’s good enough in coverage that he and James could rotate between roaming the middle and erasing tight ends. His presence could allow James to spend more time playing as a deep safety, something that Staley mentioned in his press conference. Having two high-level coverage safeties like Johnson and James would also take a lot of that responsibility off of Kenneth Murray’s plate, which would allow him to roam, read, and react as opposed to sticking in coverage like Gus Bradley so foolishly preferred.
The Chargers have other more pressing needs than safety, but Staley has made it abundantly clear that he values relationships above all else, and it appears that his strongest connection with a free agent is with Johnson.
Leonard Floyd – Outside Linebacker
The runner up to Staley’s strongest connection has to be Floyd. Staley was his position coach in Chicago for two years and his defensive coordinator for the Rams. Floyd is easily coming off his best season as a pro. Per Pro Football Focus, he had 11 sacks and 45 pressures last season. The sacks would have been the most on the Chargers, and the pressures would have been second behind Joey Bosa.
Floyd is going to have an interesting decision to make in his second free run at free agency in as many years. Playing for Staley has clearly been beneficial for him, but has it been as beneficial as playing next to Aaron Donald? The Rams clearly cannot afford to sign him to a long term deal as he could get with the Chargers. But he still is carrying a lot of the bust label from his days in Chicago, and another year of production similar to the one he just had would surely earn him a massive payday in 2022.
Similar to Johnson, Floyd would check a lot of boxes for the Chargers. In order to play the 3-4 defense that Staley is known for, they will have to get at least two more athletic outside linebackers. There are a few really intriguing fits that they could target in the draft, such as Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Miami’s Quincy Roche, Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed Jr, and Washington’s Joe Tyron. Ojulari would cost a first-round pick but his upside as an athletic pass rusher far surpasses the rest of that group. Roche and Rashed Jr. are probably in that second round range, while Tyron would be a day three selection.
Drafting one of those four and signing someone like Jeremiah Attaochu would certainly be cheaper than signing Floyd, but the latter is obviously a more proven option. Something else the Chargers will have to consider here is that signing Floyd likely means Uchenna Nwosu will not have a starting role and would likely be without a place on the team in 2022 when he is a free agent.
More Rams Options
Cam Akers is clearly the future of the Rams backfield, and Malcolm Brown is a free agent. Brown is a physical runner that has been a serviceable depth piece, and has been very effective in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He’s not going to cost very much so the Rams could keep him around, but the Chargers bringing him in for a training camp competition wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
In the possible scenario where Hunter Henry signs with another team, Gerald Everett would be an interesting piece to bring in for the Chargers. The Rams offense does not really feature tight ends, and Everett has mostly been stuck behind Tyler Higbee, so he hasn’t had a ton of opportunities so far in his career. But he has flashed some intriguing playmaking ability and is really the only free agent option that is even remotely intriguing at the tight end spot this year.
It seems likely that cornerback Troy Hill re-signs with the Rams, especially since Jalen Ramsey loves him. That means Darious Williams seems to be headed elsewhere. Unfortunately, there’s no real path forward for the Chargers to sign him unless they cut Casey Hayward or Harris. Keeping Michael Davis around will, and should, take precedence over potentially signing Williams or any other free agent cornerback.
Shelby Harris – Defensive Tackle
Harris was on my radar before today, obviously due to his connection with Staley. Then Ian Rappoport announced that the Chargers will be hiring Anthony Lomando as their new Director of Sports Performance. Lomando has been with the Broncos for the past nine years, and Harris himself had some thoughts on the hiring:
Great person even better coach gonna miss my guy https://t.co/6xzGSqYBTG
— Shelby Harris (@ShelbyHarris93) February 9, 2021
So that’s two built-in connections for Harris to consider, although Harris seems to imply that he might be staying in Denver. Still, these two connections could be enough to sway him to leave Denver. Add in the Chargers’ potential to have a quick turn around into contenders, and the chance to play in Los Angeles, and I think that could get the Chargers to the table.
Chargers fans should be familiar with his ability on the field because he has given the Chargers offensive lines fits over the last few years. Defensive tackle isn’t a huge need for them, but adding another big body and one who is plenty experienced in the 3-4 scheme could be very beneficial for the Chargers defensive front. And Harris probably wouldn’t cost that much.
Attaochu is really the only other Bronco that I think would be a possibility. Of course, pairing Justin Simmons would be a dream come true. But it’s a pipe dream, he’s not leaving Denver. Other Chargers fans have asked about Von Miller as well, and even if the Broncos decide to not pick up his option, he will not be signing with the Chargers. Miller is an all-time great talent, but he is currently in the midst of some legal troubles and that means Telesco will not be signing him.
Akiem Hicks – Defensive Tackle
Technically, Hicks is not a free agent, yet. Even with the predicted cap being $6 million higher than originally anticipated, teams around the league will have to make a lot of tough decisions. The group of players who are currently free agents is going to change rather drastically once players are re-signed and others are cut. The easiest decision the Chargers have this offseason is to cut Trai Turner because it results in zero dead cap money. The Bears could save nearly $11 million by cutting Hicks.
Hicks has been a dominant player during his time in Chicago, his best two seasons came in 2017 and 2018 when Staley was on the staff. He combined for 16 sacks and 109 tackles in those two seasons. The amount of money the Bears could save is a factor, but so is his age and the fact that he only played in five games in 2019. Some people will look at the lack of sack production from this season, but he did register 53 pressures, which is right on par with his previous levels of production between 2016 and 2018.
This might be reaching on my part, but he would be a great addition on the defensive line as an interior rusher if the price is right.
Cordarrelle Patterson – Offensive Weapon/Return Man
Staley’s connection with Patterson isn’t through the Bears. No, that connection goes back much further. Staley was on the coaching staff at Hutchinson Community College, where Patterson got his football career started, and then the two men moved onto the University of Tennessee together.
Adderley showed some really good signs near the end of the season as a kick returner, and they drafted Joe Reed to potentially develop into their version of Patterson. But we barely saw Reed active on game days last year, so there is a lot of uncertainty there. So I would understand the skepticism of potentially signing Patterson, but with the way that Patterson has developed into a high-end offensive weapon in Chicago, I think it could be worth a shot at signing him.
The direction the Chargers take in free agency will tell us a lot about their potential draft plans, and I cannot wait to see how this pans out. Let me know what you think about some of these options in the comments below, or on social media, @LAFBNetwork.
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