Coming off yet another lackluster campaign, the Los Angeles Chargers must make some decisive moves during 2017 NFL free agency to turn their fortunes around.
With the new year comes a fresh start for the Los Angeles Chargers. A new city brings with it new opportunities, and a chance to prove the team left its disappointing brand of football back in San Diego. Before progress can be made on the field, though, the Chargers have to win off it.
That starts with 2017 NFL free agency, which officially begins on March 9. Los Angeles and its new-look staff will be tasked with turning this roster into a competent bunch of football players after a miserable 5-11 showing in 2016. Luckily for them, opportunities should be aplenty in the next few weeks.
Free agency will be about more than just signing new talent, though. It’ll also involve some tough financial decisions regarding expiring contracts and overpaid players. Some notable names may need to be cut loose, while a couple of pending free agents could be kept on roster by whatever means necessary.
What I’m saying is, the next month or so will play a key role in determining what the future holds for the Chargers. Will this new home bring with it an end to the stagnation? Or will they watch their first season back in LA go up in smoke like the Rams did?
No one knows for sure, but we can certainly speculate. That’s why I’ve put together these five predictions for the Chargers’ biggest moves during 2017 NFL free agency.
If the Chargers plan on keeping Philip Rivers healthy at his ripe age, they must make an upgrade at left tackle. King Dunlap has been getting the job done the past couple of years, but that doesn’t mean it’s been done well.
That’s why he’s routinely mentioned as a potential cap casualty for the Chargers. Los Angeles can save $6.75 million against the 2017 cap by designating him as a post-June 1 cut. At this moment, it seems like a no-brainer move for a franchise that needs some more financial flexibility.
Although Dunlap has been serviceable on the blindside, he’s not the long-term answer for Los Angeles. The Chargers simply need a better, younger option at left tackle who can hold down the position for the next few years. Even if that means turning their 2017 first-round pick into a starter, the Chargers can’t continue to settle for mediocrity.
Especially with his recent off-field issues (via NFL.com), Dunlap’s time with the team has run its course. It’s time to cut the cord and find a more reliable alternative. Otherwise, the Chargers may be forced to watch Rivers get driven into the turf a few more times than they’d like this upcoming season.
Just as a quick aside, there’s also a decent chance that right guard D.J. Fluker also becomes a cap casualty.
If the Chargers are going to have any financial flexibility this offseason, more heads will need to roll. We’ve already (hypothetically) let Dunlap go, and now it’s time for Brandon Flowers to also receive his walking papers.
When Flowers was signed away from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014, it was seen as an excellent move. The Chargers needed help at cornerback, and found it with a proven veteran starter. Unfortunately, most of his time with the team has been spent battling injury. Flowers just turned 31, and has missed nearly half of the Chargers’ games over the last two seasons. His 2016 campaign was marred by concussion issues, leading to him missing 10 games on the year.
At this point, he simply isn’t worth the $11 million he’s scheduled to make in 2017. And with Los Angeles already boasting the talents of Jason Verrett and Casey Heyward at cornerback, it’s become clear that Flowers is expendable. By designating him as a post-June 1 cut, the Chargers can save $9 million against the 2017 cap.
Since joining the team, Flowers has seen a steady decrease in effectiveness. Now, heading into 2017, it’s abundantly clear he’s no longer needed. A divorce is inevitable at this point in time.
With Dunlap out of the picture, the Chargers need to find a new name to sit atop the left tackle depth chart. While there are a couple of options who could be available on Day 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft, Los Angeles will likely opt to go with an experienced candidate for the time being.
Assuming that’s the case, Kelvin Beachum is a name to keep your eye on. The veteran left tackle was recently released by the Jacksonville Jaguars after one bad year. However, he was coming off an ACL tear, which means another year removed from surgery could put his career back on track.
It’s certainly not the solve-all the Chargers need on the blindside, but it’s a step in the right direction. Before his injury and brief stint in Jacksonville, Beachum was seen as one of the NFL’s better young left tackles. Now, he’s back on the market and rearing for an opportunity to prove his worth. Los Angeles has a need, and he can absolutely fill it.
I’m guessing the Chargers will also add some offensive line talent during the draft. However, especially at such a crucial position, it’s best to have an experienced option while any incoming rookies get their feet wet. I don’t expect fans to jump for joy if Beachum is signed, but it would definitely be a strong addition for the Bolts.
Assuming the Washington Redskins don’t re-sign him, DeSean Jackson is going to have several potential suitors this offseason. He may be getting up there in age, but it’s clear the speed demon is still capable of making big plays in the NFL.
That’s why the Chargers must make a big push to acquire his services when the new league year begins. They simply can’t continue to provide Rivers with subpar options in the passing game, especially with his window quickly closing.
We all know Los Angeles has a star in Keenan Allen. Unfortunately, the explosive receiver can’t seem to stay healthy, as he’s coming off his second straight season that ended prematurely due to injury. This last year, he fell to an ACL tear in Week 1 after his 2015 campaign was cut short by a lacerated kidney.
To put it bluntly, the Chargers can’t rely on Allen anymore. They need another top option who Rivers can trust to carry the passing game on any given Sunday. It’s not like Antonio Gates is going to be able to do it forever, and Los Angeles’ stable of injury-prone running backs isn’t dependable either.
Jackson has been fairly durable throughout his nine-year NFL career, having missed only one game a season ago. His assumed price tag of about $10 million per year won’t make things easy on the Chargers, but they must find a way to upgrade Rivers’ arsenal. Signing the speedster would be a big boost for this offense.
This offseason, one of the Chargers’ brightest stars is set to hit the open market. Yes, I’m talking about Melvin Ingram, the former first-round pick who has quietly evolved into an outstanding edge rusher over the last couple of seasons.
Frankly, it would be stupid for Los Angeles to let Ingram walk this offseason. Their defense is just starting to come into its own, especially after the emergence of 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa. However, if Ingram leaves in 2017, they’ll be left with a lopsided pass rush that’ll again feel incomplete.
So why not slap him with the franchise tag? It’s not a cheap option (about $14.7 million, according to Pro Football Rumors). However, it does buy the Chargers more time to work out a long-term deal with one of their top defensive assets.
Ingram is coming off another tremendous season during which he racked up eight sacks. On top of that, he finished the year with Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best rating among 109 qualified edge rushers. It took a little while, but we’ve finally seen Ingram develop into the game-breaking talent the Chargers originally drafted him to be.
That’s why they can’t let him get away. Los Angeles is about to sport one of the best edge-rushing duos in the NFL, but that’ll only happen if Ingram stays. Unless a deal gets done before March 2, the Chargers must slap their star outside linebacker with the franchise tag.