Free Agency Predictions For The Los Angeles Chargers

Michael Davis Intercepts Matt Ryan

Free Agency Predictions For The Los Angeles Chargers

The legal tampering period for the National Football League begins tomorrow morning, and the Los Angeles Chargers can start signing players on Wednesday afternoon. This free agency period will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen due to the oversaturated market of veteran players and cap decrease. The Chargers are in a fantastic place to capitalize on the market and be aggressive. After releasing Casey Hayward yesterday, the Chargers now have $46.35 million in cap space – per Overthecap.

That number is good enough for fourth-most in the league, just behind the Jaguars, Jets, and Patriots. They could still free up more space by extending Mike Williams and restructuring the contracts of veterans such as Linval Joseph and Chris Harris. They might not be able to free up enough space to catch the Patriots, who currently have just over $63 million in cap space, but if the Chargers can get up over the 50 million mark, that would be a huge advantage heading into this offseason.

Although it is unfortunate to see Hayward, specifically get cut due to how great of a player he was for the franchise since he signed with them back in 2016, it was a necessary move to allow the Chargers to shore up other areas of need.

That being said let’s get to some predictions for the Chargers.

Prediction #1 – Michael Davis Gets An Extension, and Hunter Henry Signs Elsewhere

Ian Rapoport mentioned that Hayward was being released due to the uncertainty of how he would fit in the Chargers scheme going forward. While Brandon Staley and his staff have repeatedly said they will be flexible and adapt to their players, it’s clear that they also have a clear vision for what they want on the roster. Hayward is almost exclusively a zone corner at this point in his career and Staley mixes up coverages so much that meant the fit with Hayward would be a little clunky. Davis on the other hand fits the mold of what Staley is looking for in terms of length and versatility. His extension is now essential without Hayward.

I do hope the Chargers are able to re-sign Henry, I think another team is going to outbid them. The fit remains a little unclear in terms of the scheme, however, we can look at the types of tight ends that have been on the rosters of parts of the offensive coaching staff. The offensive brain trust for the Chargers, consisting of Staley, Joe Lombardi, Frank Smith, and Shane Day have worked with the following group of tight ends in recent memory: George Kittle, Darren Waller, Jared Cook (Smith and Lombardi), Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Noah Fant, Eric Ebron, Trey Burton, Jordan Reed, and Jimmy Graham. The one common thread there is athleticism and yards after the catch ability. All of those players are/were more athlete than tight end at one point in their careers. Although Kittle is the exception as he is one of the best blockers in the league regardless of position. 

Henry is a very well-rounded tight end, but he doesn’t seem to fit the kind of athletic profile that the Chargers staff is looking for. Only seven tight ends had more receptions than Henry did in 2020, and he probably would have climbed even higher on that list if he hadn’t caught Covid and missed the last two games of the season. Despite all those receptions, Henry was tied for 13th in the league in yards after the catch. Rob Gronkowski, Jonnu Smith, Hayden Hurst, Everett, Higbee, and Kittle all ranked higher than Henry in that department despite having fewer catches. 

Now the counterargument that someone could present here is that some of his limitations this past season were due to how he was used. They could say that he was mostly used as a security blanket over the middle for Justin Herbert. However, he actually finished worse in that category in 2019. He had 55 receptions that season, good enough for the 10th most in the league, but he finished 27th in yards after the catch. In 2017 he finished 16th in that category and in 2016 he finished 20th. Henry is a good athlete, but the Chargers under Staley might prefer to have better athletes instead of a tight end who is good at everything.

Ultimately, that lack of uncertainty and the kind of market he should have to sign elsewhere make me lean towards him leaving as the likely possibility. Even though I would love to have him back. 

Prediction #2 – The Chargers Get Two New Starting Caliber Offensive Linemen

The Chargers should be on the phone with any starting-caliber offensive lineman on the market. Their first priority this offseason has to be protecting Justin Herbert. It’s great that he was so effective when under pressure as a rookie, but that’s not something that is traditionally sustainable for young quarterbacks, and it’s not something that should impede the Chargers from trying to upgrade the blocking in front of him. “Well, Justin doesn’t need great blocking to succeed” should not be an idea that the Chargers front office entertains this offseason. 

There are two pieces of good news for them on this front. The first is that the group they put in front of him next year can’t possibly be worse than what they had in 2020. The second is that there are so many quality veterans on the market, and this is a very deep draft as well. They will get an upgrade, and I think they will get two above-average veteran pieces.

Everyone is predicting that they land Corey Linsley from the Packers. He and Joe Thuney are the shining jewels of this class, and Thuney is going to be way too expensive. Linsley checks all the boxes the Chargers could possibly want. It’s been clear that Tom Telesco values the center position, and Linsley was pretty clearly the best center in the league last year. He is coming off a career season in which earned first-team All-Pro honors and set career marks in terms of pass-blocking efficiency. He only allowed seven combined pressures and earned a career-best 86.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, both were the best in the league. They have connections to him through tight ends coach Kevin Koger and Bryan Bulaga. While no one knows with 100% certainty the offensive scheme the Chargers are going to run, it appears they will be heavily influenced by the Shanahan system and Linsley has thrived in that scheme over the last two seasons for the Packers. For good measure, he was also the Packers nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the year in 2020 and we all know how Telesco values that kind of leadership. He should be their number one free agent target. 

That being said, if they strike out on Linsley all is not lost. The Chiefs will not be bringing back veteran center Austin Reiter, even though they freed enough cap space to re-sign him by restructuring Patrick Mahomes’ deal. He is viewed as a tier below Linsley, which means he will cost less but I would not view him as a consolation prize. He is a very solid player in his own right. Linsley undoubtedly has a higher ceiling but Reiter only allowed 11 pressures this season and hovers right around the high 60’s/low70’s in terms of PFF grade. He’s been a very consistent presence for the Chiefs over the past two seasons and would make a lot of sense for the Chargers.

Similar to Reiter, Kevin Zeitler is viewed as the consolation prize to Thuney but he would be a fantastic signing for anyone. He’s bounced around a bit in the NFL and will be on his fourth team next season but he’s brought a lot of value to each of his three teams. He’s played in all 16 games in every season since 2015 and his PFF grades/pressures allowed reflect a highly consistent presence up front. His worst statistical season came in 2017 when he allowed 29 pressures for the Browns, and if that’s his floor, the Chargers should be jumping at the chance to add that to their roster. 

This is the long-winded way of me saying I think the Chargers will get one of these four players. I don’t think it’s Thuney, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Telesco take a big swing this offseason. 

Other than that, I think we will see them bring one of the former Raiders offensive linemen over to reunite with new offensive line coach Frank Smith. My personal preference would be Jon Feliciano due to his tenacious mentality, which is something the Chargers have really missed over the last two years while Mike Pouncey has struggled with the injury bug. He also has the versatility to play all three interior spots. However, Gabe Jackson would be a great veteran presence at one of the guard spots, and Denzelle Good also has some positional versatility as he has made a handful of starts at right tackle over the course of his career.

Prediction #3 – Chargers Will Give A Big Contract Out To A Former Rams Defensive Standout

Brandon Staley has placed a precedence on his past relationships with how he hired his coaching staff and Telesco did acknowledge in his “combine press conference” that having familiarity with his scheme could play a role in how they attack free agency. The Rams are reportedly working to re-sign outside linebacker Leonard Floyd before tomorrow’s deadline, which would essentially guarantee that safety John Johnson hits the market and becomes free to sign elsewhere.

Staley has a great relationship with both of these players. He has worked with Floyd as a position coach and as a defensive coordinator, and if there’s anyone who knows how to get the best out of him, it is Staley. Johnson notably called plays for Staley’s defense this past season and the two of them have a fantastic relationship as well. 

Both of these players check a lot of boxes for the Chargers in terms of roster fit and scheme fit. They need to add another pass rusher, although adding Floyd would likely mean keeping Uchenna Nwosu in a complementary role. They also need to add some versatile playmaking to the secondary and Johnson would certainly bring that. Chargers fans should salivate about the possibility of pairing Johnson with Derwin James at the safety position. Last season the Rams played in the dime package a ton, and in the Chargers case that would allow them to have James, Johnson, and Kenneth Murray flying around and making plays in the middle of the field. Giving Staley that kind of speed and versatility would be truly amazing to watch.

Prediction #4 – Chargers Will Sign A Cheap Veteran Running Back

This is not my preference, but Telesco went out of his way last week to say they need to build a more efficient rushing attack. They could help accomplish that by beefing up the offensive line, but his comments did make me think they are going to add a running back at some point this offseason. To be frank, they can’t count on Justin Jackson to stay healthy and who knows what they have in Joshua Kelley at this point. They have met with a few draft-eligible running backs that could make sense on the third day of the draft. But ultimately I do think they’d want someone to come in and really challenge Kelley or Jackson for a roster spot. Austin Ekeler is a fantastic running back and is on one of the best value contracts in the league, however, the Chargers could look to use him even more as a receiver under Lombardi. So having another player capable of carrying the ball 12-15 times becomes a little more essential.

As of writing this, the Packers just announced an extension for Aaron Jones which means that Jamaal Williams will be playing elsewhere in 2021. He would be a very solid complement to Ekeler and also provide the offense with another capable receiving threat out of the backfield. Marlon Mack could be another sneaky player to watch here because he wouldn’t be very expensive and they could get him on a one-year prove-it deal due to his injury. Latavius Murray is currently under contract with the Saints but they still need to make some additional moves to get under the cap floor and if he is released, he would make a lot of sense with his connections to Lombardi, and Smith. He’s not in that same category in terms of talent but Malcolm Brown could make some sense as well, given his ability as a power back and familiarity with the scheme they are going to run.

Let me know your predictions in the comments or replies on Twitter!