Potential Free Agents The Chargers Could Still Sign
The Los Angeles Chargers, along with the rest of the NFL, are wrapping up their mandatory OTA period and will be preparing for training camp in no time. The roster currently stands at 82 players and the NFL has returned the roster limit to the previous amount of 90, which obviously means the Chargers can go out and sign eight more players to the roster if they so choose. The Chargers still have a significant amount of cap space as well, so money is no issue.
Many fans have been pushing for the team to go after Malik Hooker or bring back Melvin Ingram for one more run. General manager Tom Telesco shut down any possibility of the latter happening and Hooker presents too great of an injury risk. So instead, I will be focusing this article on some potential other fits that the Chargers could still pursue.
The Chargers appear to be relatively pleased with the status of their edge rusher room, however, I believe the room is a little thin and could use another body. The pass rusher market outside of Ingram is drought level dry, but Houston and Vernon are two players who could still provide a much-needed boost to an NFL team.
Vernon struggled with some minor injuries over the last few seasons but he did play in 14 games in 2020 and produced 51 total pressures and nine sacks. That kind of production would have been better than anyone on the Chargers not named Joey Bosa.
Like Vernon, Houston is on the wrong side of 30 but he’s been one of the most consistent and underrated pass rushers over the last decade. His efficiency as a pass rusher took a bit of a hit last season in terms of total pressures, but he still accumulated 10 sacks. Perhaps most important, he played in all 16 games for the Colts over the last two years.
As complimentary pass rushers, these two players still have value and frankly, you can never have too many pass rushers.
The Chargers have spent a lot of premium resources rebuilding the offensive line through free agency and the draft. The starting lineup of Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Oday Aboushi, and Bryan Bulaga should prove to be a big upgrade over their preceding unit. However, the depth behind those players still leaves a lot to be desired.
Scott Quessenberry is a fine backup center and I am a big believer in Brenden Jaimes’ future potential, and the Chargers still like Trey Pipkins as a developing tackle prospect. Outside of those three, the team has a former XFL standout and quite a few former undrafted free agents that should be battling for practice squad spots. I’d like to see the Chargers add a veteran to solidify that second unit.
Versatility has been the theme of the offseason for the Chargers and both Easton and Kelly have started a lot of games at multiple positions as swing offensive linemen. Kelly started all 16 games for the Titans last year at right tackle and was very solid. He allowed 26 pressures on 587 pass-blocking snaps and proved to be an effective run blocker as a key cog on a unit that allowed Derrick Henry to rush for 2,000 yards last year. He is 31 but last year was his first season as a full-time starter (similar to Aboushi).
Easton was recently cut by New Orleans after the second year of a four-year and $23 million contract. His PFF profile is unspectacular but he can play all three spots along the interior and has started over 40 games for the Saints and Vikings since entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard.
Signing two career backups is hardly anything special to write home about but I would prefer both of these players over someone like Storm Norton or Nate Gilliam.
The Chargers running back room behind Austin Ekeler is unsettled and will have to be sorted out in training camp. Justin Jackson could have a leg up on Joshua Kelley or Larry Rountree III, but the former Northwestern standout has yet to stay healthy. Kelley’s confidence and efficiency tanked hard after he fumbled in back-to-back games early in the season. Rountree is a rookie that I like more than others do, but similar to the offensive line group I think the Chargers could stand to add a veteran to this group. Darius Bradwell is the fifth back on the roster.
One of the hallmarks of the Saints offense that Joe Lombardi will be bringing with him is the weaponization of running backs as receivers. Be it Alvin Kamara, Darren Sproles, or Reggie Bush, the Saints have always had great pass-catchers out of the backfield. Ekeler should fill that role beautifully, but none of the other four backs really have that skillset.
Johnson has been one of the most efficient pass-catching backs in the league over the last six years. He had a down season in Houston this past year (who didn’t) but he is still an effective option and even logged 111 snaps as an outside receiver in 2019. Adding him gives the Chargers another versatile playmaker and at worst, someone that can provide competition for the younger backs on the roster.
Jaylen Watkins, De’Vante Bausby, or Bradley McDougald
The Chargers are all in on Derwin James’ health and development from Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman, and Mark Webb. If James stays healthy, the safety position will be in good hands. Still, the Chargers would be wise to add another body to the room. Gilman started one game last season and Webb is a seventh-round draft pick.
Watkins is obviously familiar with the locker room, having spent the last three seasons in Los Angeles. He fits the mold of a versatile piece in the secondary that Brandon Staley covets, as he can play either safety spot as well as the slot. He is a solid depth piece.
McDougald was one of the pieces that the Seahawks famously traded in return for Jamaal Adams. He is a little older and spent most of the 2020 season on injured reserve for the Jets, but he has started a lot of games over the last six seasons. He could be a dependable backup and push for that third safety spot behind James and Adderley.
Bausby is hardly a household name and has bounced around a lot in his young NFL career. But he has spent a combined three seasons with Staley and Renaldo Hill. He spent time on the Chicago Bears practice squad in 2016, then was on the Denver Broncos for the last two seasons. Bausby has primarily played corner but he has the versatility to move around and can play deep if needed. He would be more of a practice squad kind of addition, but perhaps there is some untapped potential there.