Should The Los Angeles Chargers Get A Center In Free Agency Or Draft One? 

How should the Chargers solve the likely retirement of center Corey Linsley?

Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers are in need of a replacement center. Corey Linsley, who’s an eventual Hall-of-Famer in my book, was out the majority of last season with a non-emergent heart issue. At his end-of-season press conference, he said he’ll announce in March whether he’ll play in 2024.

On Monday Field Yates of ESPN reported that Linsley restructured his contract, which “lowers his base salary from $11.5M to the minimum for the 2024 season. This move creates $10.29M in cap space for now and if Linsley retires after June 1st, the team can spread the dead cap hit over 2 years.”

The absence of Linsley contributed to much of Justin Herberts woes in 2023. With Linsley likely to retire, the question lingers, should the Los Angeles Chargers get a center in free agency or wait for the draft? 

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers FA Target: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Centers Available to the Los Angeles Chargers in Free Agency

As my colleague Ryan Anderson said in his article on Linsely’s contract restructure, if the Los Angeles Chargers are going to go the free-agent route, they’ll have to do so cheaply, considering they’re over the projected cap.

Since they don’t have money to spend, they most likely won’t be getting someone like Connor Williams from Miami.

Tyler Biadasz from Dallas may be a good option as he’s currently an unrestricted free agent, only 26, and has missed very little time over the last few seasons since being drafted in 2020. His run and pass-blocking grades have hovered around the 50s and 60s and he hasn’t allowed many sacks. He’s not afraid to get out of the pocket and having a mobile center would be a benefit to Herbert. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has him predicted to get a “3-year, $7m avg/yr, $11m guaranteed, $21m total” contract, which is pricey, but not at the top of the market.

On a side note, my colleagues think that Mitch Morse from Buffalo may be a solution. Though not a free agent, he’s a good option as he currently has one year left on his contract. He’s 31 and experienced, having played for both the Chiefs and Buffalo over the past nine seasons. He’s still solid in terms of run and pass protection. Considering his age, the Chargers could make a trade and put him on a one-year deal while they develop a rookie acquired in the draft.

Perhaps some of the in-demand players like edge rusher Khalil Mack or wide receiver Mike Williams can be the trade collateral. The Bills may not be willing to part ways with him, but it’s not far out of the realm of possibility.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona State
Los Angeles Chargers Draft Target: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What Choices Do They Have During the Draft? 

The only time a center for the Los Angeles Chargers has been drafted in the first round was Bob Rush in ‘77. So if the Chargers do draft one, it likely won’t be until later on. Currently, the Chargers are slated to have the 5th pick in the first round, the 37th in the second, and the 69th in the third, while the other picks are still to be determined.

Deeper in the draft, centers like Jackson Powers-Johnson of Oregon, Zach Frazier of West Virginia, and Sedrick Van Pran of Georgia, who are all at the top of PFF’s and ESPN’s lists, may be gone.  So the Chargers may have to trade back after the first round to pursue some of these higher-ranked options. 

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Washington at Michigan
Los Angeles Chargers Draft Target: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan center Drake Nugent is fifth out of the centers on the PFF draft board and could be a good fit. He played for Stanford for the first four years of his college career and for Michigan in his fifth. Nugent is great at sticking to his blocks and at 301 pounds and 6’2’’, has the build needed for the position. And wouldn’t it just be perfect for him to join his former coach in LA? My colleagues have Nugent listed as one of their picks to replace Linsely along with Powers-Johnson, Beaux Limmer, and Van Pran. 

If the Chargers are able to trade back, getting Jackson Powers-Johnson would be ideal. His run-blocking  (85.2) and pass-blocking (90.6) grades have only gotten higher the more he’s played. Physically he’s even bigger (6’3’’ and 320 pounds) than Nugent and can easily pivot between blocks. He really sticks to people, using that larger frame to body-check if needed. The Chargers are going to need a real difference-maker in terms of run and pass protection and it could be him. 

The Verdict

I’m leaning more toward the Los Angeles Chargers using the draft to solve their center problem. Will Clapp did fine last year as Linsley’s backup but not great, and Cameron Tom has only played a handful of NFL snaps, despite being in the league for the last few years. Both are set for free agency so the Chargers need to fix the glaring hole that will be left in Linsley’s likely absence. It will be tough without but it’s necessary to find someone to rely on for future years.