Chargers Off-Season Needs
By: Loren S. Casuto
Bolttalk Podcast Co-Host/Staff Writer
1) Offensive Tackle (2 or 3)
Need: Extremely High
The Chargers came into the year believing at least one tackle position was locked down for a few years and ended the year with a need for three tackles. Gaither has gone from being a savior to a massive goat and based on his poor attitude and ‘questionable injury’ it’s difficult to imagine he’d be allowed in any locker room again. Clary has been a poor player for years but it was magnified in 2012 when he couldn’t block anyone without a lot of help and was adequately replaced by street free agents. Mario Henderson and Brandon Dombrowski didn’t play while Kevin Haslam & Mike Harris were barely effective. Furthering the problem is that the Chargers are possibly moving to a zone blocking scheme which means the Chargers will have to acquire very specific types of linemen. Rivers was sacked more times than ever before in his career and his mechanics and performance suffered because of the constant pressure. If the Chargers have any hope of getting back to .500 let alone becoming a play off team it needs to fix the tackle spot. The team will likely cut one of Gaither or Clary but the other might stay because of the cap hit the team will take if they release both. The team needs to decide what it has, if anything, with Mike Harris or Kevin Haslam, as long as they’re not considered starters. While the Chargers find a need for tackles in one of the best tackle markets in a long while, the issue will be whether or how much of a zone-blocking scheme will be utilized. Few of the offensive linemen on the market come from such a scheme.
2) Offensive Guard (1 or 2)
Much the same as offensive tackle, the guard position was nearly as bad. Tyronne Green took a huge step backwards in 2012 after being forced into the lineup in 2011 and was eventually benched for Rex Hadnot, who is a free agent. Green is also a free agent and its doubtful he’d return or that he would be considered a potential starter. Louis Vasquez had arguably his best season as a pro and was the best and most consistent performer on the dismal line. He is also a free agent and one of the best guards available on the market. If he leaves then the Chargers might find themselves replacing three if not four positions on the offensive line. However, as mentioned above, the difficulty will be finding guards that fit the scheme.
3) Cornerback (1 or 2)
The Chargers will likely be losing the starting duo they have had for nearly four years. Quentin Jammer has spent ten years with the Chargers and while last years’ slowdown might have been a fluke, this year can’t be considered just a down year. While he had some amazing moments to cap off his career with the Chargers its doubtful he will return unless the new coach and Pagano agree to bring him back as a safety. Cason has had an up and down career with the team and while some saw the second half as a major step in his advancement many think he’s hasn’t shown any improvement since the 2010 season. The Chargers have two young cornerbacks waiting in the wings that they are still unsure about. Marcus Gilchrist has shown great advancement as a nickel corner and backup safety who contributes with some big plays. Shareece Wright has shown flashes but hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup. Even if the team has faith in the two young guns, they will need a proper #1 cornerback to match up against the best other teams have to offer.
4) Inside Linebacker (at least 1)
Need: High (Low if Spikes returns)
The Chargers are blessed to have at least one pro bowl level talent at this position in Donald Butler. They also have a good and growing special teamer in Andrew Gachkar. However they are possibly losing one starting linebacker to retirement (Spikes) and one to free agency (Demorrio Williams) while having a draft pick that has done nothing in two years (Mouton). Assuming the best possible scenario where Spikes remains with the team in 2013, the Chargers will have to find at least one backup to replace Williams. Primarily they need someone who can take Spikes’ place on passing downs. If Spikes retires then the team will need to find another starter to pair with Butler as well as a backup option. Williams was a good backup linebacker who made some game changing plays. The team also needs to figure out what they have in Jonas Mouton sooner or later but its debatable if Pagano will be any more inclined to play a guy that they kept inactive and started street free agents ahead of.
5) Running Back (1)
The Chargers ended the 2010 draft with high hopes that they had solved their running back woes by trading numerous picks to jump up and select Ryan Mathews. Three years later this pick looks like a disaster. While Mathews is talented when he’s on the field, those times are rarer and rarer as Mathews became the first player in history to suffer two broken collarbones in the same season. Combine that with repeated fumbling issues and whispers of a poor work ethic and the team is now in a bind. Most of the other running backs on the team were either ineffective (Brinkley, Battle), unable to be full time backs (Brown) or unproven (Baker). The team is likely forced to give Mathews one more shot but the team will likely seek someone to compete with Mathews.
6) Outside Linebacker (2)
While the Chargers had a good rotational group of five linebackers to start the 2012 season, they end it with only two under contract. Jarrett Johnson is a good player but only effective at run stopping with little value as a pass rusher. Melvin Ingram showed great flashes but didn’t provide the impact fans assumed he would, especially combined with some boneheaded plays. The team’s top free agent is Shaun Phillips who is 32 and looking for one last big contract. He remains a top pass rushing threat but there are concerns about providing a big contract to a player over 30 who has been known as a partier. Antwaan Barnes was fantastic in 2011 but had limited production and playing time in 2012 ending the year on IR. Larry English will go down as a top 3 bust of AJ Smith’s career. The team needs more depth if not another starter, and it could be added either in free agency or the draft.
7) Defensive End (1)
The Chargers are blessed to have two young starters with incredible upside entrenched at both defensive end positions. Corey Liuget went from being decent his rookie year to being a fantastic young player with a real future. Kendall Reyes was considered to be a great draft pick and when allowed to start showed he has an equally bright future. The only concern here is depth; Vaughn Martin has been showing great progress though he will likely not be the star that Liuget and Reyes are. He’s a free agent and will likely be looking for a starting spot and more money. The Chargers also tried to use Antonio Garay at defensive end with little success. The team needs some depth.
8) Tight End (1)
The Chargers have been spoiled for years with Antonio Gates not only operating as a top threat against opposing defenses but as a standard bearer for tight ends league wide. Clearly after a decade in the NFL Gates is slowing down; he is unable to break away like he used to nor does he have the speed that he was blessed with most of his career. The Chargers drafted Ladarius Green last year but used 2012 as a red shirt year, and with new management coming in Green will have to prove himself. Dante Rosario had one good game then was forgotten while Randy McMIchael has played likely his last year. The team needs at least one more tight end to join with Gates and prepare for his eventual retirement.
9) Quarterback (1)
No, the Chargers do not need to replace Philip Rivers. My opinion, and the opinion of the Chargers front office, coaching staff and the vast majority of fans, is that the lack of an offensive line is causing most of Rivers’ problems. Having said that, the team reacquired Charlie Whitehurst to be their backup QB and it remains a question as to what Whitehurst learnt in three poor years with Seattle to become a proper back up. The Chargers need someone they can bring in as a proper back up and to potentially groom in a few years to take over for Rivers.
10) Safety (1, maybe)
The Chargers are actually set at free safety with starter and team Captain Eric Weddle and his backup, special team gunner Darrell Stuckey. The team thought it had solved the issue at Strong Safety by signing Atari Bigby & drafting Brandon Taylor. Ironically it was a little known free agent named Corey Lynch that provided the most value when both Bigby & Taylor went out with injury. The Chargers will likely try to resign Lynch as depth but it remains to be seen if new management wants to bring in another safety as their guy or if Taylor can make it back to start. Either way the team will likely not address until late, if at all.
Positions the Chargers don't need:
Wide Receiver – Even if the team jettisons Richard Goodman they have two players guaranteed to be there (Floyd, Brown), two high priced players who weren’t effective (Royal, Meachem) and two players who earned the right to play (Alexander, Spurlock). There’s no reason to add another to this crowded group.
Nose Tackle – The team has been playing Cam Thomas more and more and likes what it sees. They were also happy with Aubrayo Franklin who played some of his best ball in years. The team will likely want to resign him or might keep Garay at a lower rate for depth, but the starting position is set.
Punter – Mike Scifres is one of the best punters in the NFL regardless of what the Pro Bowl or those who decide all-pro standing think. His grit and talent over the last two years are proof of that.
Fullback – Unless this is a feature of the new Chargers offense under both Mike McCoy & Ken Whisenhunt and unless they are not happy with Le’Ron McClain in that position, this will not be an area of focus. In addition this position has been in decline since the middle of the last decade.
Center – Nick Hardwick is one year into his three year deal which likely will be his last contract with the team. The team also grabbed one of the biggest steals in the draft with David Molk in the seventh round and he appears to be in the teams future. Unless there’s another incredible steal late, don’t expect this position to be a focus.
Kicker – After Nate Kaeding was injured and released, Nick Novak came in and did the same thing he did last year. Going 18/20 include 2 from over 50 yds should secure Novak his position for another year.