Prioritizing The Chargers Free Agent List
The Los Angeles Chargers are not preparing for a playoff game this week and that really stings. They did not do enough to make that leap in Brandon Staley’s first season and that is extremely disappointing. The team heads into the offseason with the most cap space in the league. Some of that will be dedicated to bringing back some key pieces, but they should be able to really turn this roster over to fit Staley’s image, specifically on defense, and support Justin Herbert at a higher level.
The Chargers have a long list of pending team free agents this year, which includes the following players: Linval Joseph, Chris Harris Jr, Mike Williams, Jared Cook, Oday Aboushi, Ryan Smith, Uchenna Nwosu, Kyler Fackrell, Chase Daniel, Michael Schofield, Dustin Hopkins, Andre Roberts, Senio Kelemete, Matt Overton, Christian Covington, Stephen Anderson, Justin Jones, Davontae Harris, Kyzir White, Scott Quessenberry, Justin Jackson, Davontae Harris, Storm Norton (restricted), Donald Parham (restricted), Jalen Guyton (restricted), Trey Marshall (restricted), Joe Reed (restricted), and Ty Long (restricted).
Obviously, the Chargers won’t be able to bring back all of these players, and nor should they. Everyone does rankings, but I want to sort these players out by groups today.
Group #1: Must Re-Sign
I’m only going to list four players in this grouping: White, Nwosu, Hopkins, and Roberts.
After all the pre-season hype around Nasir Adderley, Kenneth Murray, etc. White ended up being the breakout player of the season for the Chargers. He finished the season 8th in the league among all linebackers in tackles and tied for fourth in defensive stops according to PFF. He had a truly stellar season. Given the awful season that Murray just put on tape, and constant struggles with injuries from Drue Tranquill, White is absolutely a must re-sign. Linebacker has become a less valuable position for teams recently, so I wouldn’t think he’d cost all that much to retain.
Nwosu started off the season slow and looked like someone on pace to be on his way out in Los Angeles. Then the light switched on after the Chargers bye week. He flashed on film more often, he was more consistent, and really took a step forward in his development alongside Joey Bosa. Over the last 11 games, he accumulated 27 total pressures, four sacks, seven additional quarterback hits, and 13 run stops – per Pro Football Focus. He also shined brightest in the Chargers’ biggest games: @ Cincinnati, Vs Kansas City, and @ Las Vegas. The Chargers need to get more pass rush production, but that shouldn’t involve letting Nwosu hit free agency.
Finally, I know that they each made costly errors in the season finale but Roberts and Hopkins HAVE to be back next year. I am tired of the same song and dance that has happened at kicker and returner under Telesco. Roberts and Hopkins stabilized those two positions for the Chargers. Hopkins ended up making 18 of his 20 field goal attempts, and he hit 24 of his 26 extra-point attempts. He also tied for the lead league in touchbacks and averaged the highest hangtime per kickoff.
Roberts was arguably the best kick returner in the league during his time as a Charger this season. Over the last 11 weeks of the regular season, he averaged the second-highest yards per kickoff return at 32.8, which is almost exactly double the number of yards per return that the Chargers averaged before his arrival. It’s tough to take the emotion from the sting of Sunday night’s loss, but the big picture is that Roberts and Hopkins were the two best special teams players the Chargers have had in over a decade. They have to be re-signed.
Group #2: Important Glue Guys
I have five Chargers players in this grouping and each should be brought back: Aboushi, Jackson, Guyton, Parham, and Anderson. Aboushi was brought in on a cheap, one-year deal and only played four full games but was excellent in those games. The Chargers presumably have their right guard of the future on the roster in Brenden Jaimes, but Staley and company made it very clear at every turn that he was not ready to play as a rookie, sadly. Bringing Aboushi back for another year makes too much sense to at the very least provide competition and depth.
The Chargers rushing attack really took off with Jackson’s emergence over the back half of the season. Injuries are really the only concern for him because he’s always been productive when healthy, this year he actually led the league in yards per carry among all running backs over the last six weeks. He also showed he can be an effective contributor on special teams. I would like to add a capable third back behind him, though, or have him as the third back.
Guyton ended up with nearly identical numbers this season as he did last year and took on a larger route tree this year. Herbert trusts him and he’s really the only true speed threat on the roster. I think he’s more of a fourth or fifth option but he still has value and should be brought back while the Chargers add another speedster in the draft.
The Chargers missed Parham down the stretch and believe he took a very positive step towards being the team’s primary tight end next season. Anderson filled a variety of roles on the offense and really blossomed as a blocker and as a special teams player. Both of these players excelled in the yards after catch category, albeit in limited opportunities, which is a crucial ability for the tight end position in this offense. Parham and Anderson should both be back next season on new deals.
Group #3: If The Price Is Right
There are only two players in this group for me and I’m sure people will disagree with it, but I have Williams and Jones sorted here. Williams’ future with the Chargers is going to be the hottest discussion point of the offseason for the team this year. His physical gifts have always been obvious, but heading into the season fans longed for more consistency and an expanded skill set. He accomplished those things, at least to an extent, and actually led the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Herbert was excellent this season when under pressure and in clutch situations, and Williams’ performance was a huge part of that. I’ll never forget watching the two of them put every single ounce of energy into that comeback attempt in Las Vegas. There’s no doubt the two of them are building a special connection.
That being said, his future on the team really depends on how high of a number is and how big of an opportunity he and his agent are seeking. I believe he’s a top-tier wide receiver two in this league and should be paid as such, and ideally, that will happen as a member of the Chargers. However, if he’s seeking an opportunity to be THE guy and be paid as such, the Chargers simply won’t be able to give that to him. Anything more than $17 million per year and he probably signs elsewhere.
I don’t believe Jones is a must re-sign as most do. I think Chargers fans overrate his value simply because the Chargers needed him so badly. The reality is that he is more of a role player than a difference-maker. There’s value in that, to be sure and I am totally on board with keeping him around but it has to be at the right price. But of all the defensive tackles who played at least 20% of their respective team’s run defense snaps, Jones ranked 72nd in run-stop percentage. (Breiden Fehoko sits atop that list.) The Chargers absolutely have to upgrade the defensive line and find more productive players and if that means replacing Jones, then so be it.
Group #4: Expendable
As I said, the Chargers won’t and shouldn’t keep every team free agent. The rest of the aforementioned players fall into this category such as Cook, Joseph, and Harris. Joseph being expendable is less about his performance with the Chargers and more about his age and health. He was clearly not the same disruptive force after he got infected with Covid and will be 34 next season.
Cook was fine as a placeholder after the team let Hunter Henry walk in free agency. However, his drops and lack of attention to detail were a problem all season – really his whole career. Harris is one of the best slot corners in NFL history but he is clearly past his prime. Neither of these players should be back.
I’m certainly not against bringing guys like Schofield, Quessenberry, or Covington back but it shouldn’t be hard for the team to find upgrades. Long and Overton seemed like fine players in their roles and I’m ok bringing them back, but the team should bring in competition at the very least.
This should be one wild offseason! And I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.