Which restricted free agents should Chargers re-sign?

The San Diego Chargers have a few quality players hitting free agency in 2017. Which ones should the team retain?

We focused on 2017 unrestricted free agents the Chargers should re-sign, so now it’s time to look at the team’s restricted free agents. Quick refresher: An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team after their contract expires; if the player is a restricted free agent, the Chargers can match any offer another team makes and could possibly be compensated should they decline to do so.

Restricted free agents can get a first-round tender, second-round tender, original tender or right-of-first-refusal tender (no compensation). If tendered and no team makes an offer, the player will be signed to a non-guaranteed one-year deal worth less than $4 million (the highest tender is around $3.5 million and lowest is around $1.67 million), per Overthecap.com. Long-term deals can be worked out, too.

With that said, let’s take a look and see which restricted free agents the Chargers should re-sign in 2017 (in order from important to least important).

Nov 1, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Branden Oliver (43) runs during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated San Diego Chargers 29-26. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

1. Branden Oliver (RFA): After surprising many people his rookie season (2014)–a year in which the undrafted free agent out of Buffalo led the team in rushing with 582 yards on 160 carries–Branden Oliver was looking to bounce back after missing the final eight games of the 2015 season with turf toe. Unfortunately, he never got started after being placed on season-ending IR after tearing his Achilles in preseason.

Before the season started, I stated that if Gordon failed to produce, Oliver had the talent to lead the way. He’s small at 5-foot-8, but he has the speed, juking and receiving ability you want in a back. He also adds some power, which is rare at his size.

The Chargers are a better team with Oliver, who is still only 25 years old. And if you think about it, the Chargers only have Gordon and 2016 undrafted free agent Kenneth Farrow under contract for next season, so this is an underrated need. Since Oliver wasn’t able to showcase his skills in 2016, there’s a good feeling that nobody will make an offer for him. Andre Williams, who was claimed off waivers after the Giants released him, is also a restricted free agent. Williams, 24, only played in the season finale in 2016, but he ran hard (4.8 yards per carry) and made quick cuts against a tough Kansas City defense.

Farrow as the backup to Gordon isn’t exactly appealing, so expect Oliver (and possibly Williams if Woodhead isn’t re-signed) to be back.

Oct 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Korey Toomer (56) recovers a fumble during the second half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

2. Korey Toomer (RFA): The Chargers have talent at inside linebacker. Denzel Perryman, who was banged up, had his ups and downs in his second year, but he’s still a thumper in the middle. Fifth-round rookie Jatavis Brown is a star in the making. 2016 fourth-rounder Joshua Perry is another exciting prospect who mostly played on special teams, but he’s likely to see more playing time on defense in 2017.

But Korey Toomer was a turnover machine. Another fine scouting job by Tom Telesco and the Chargers, Toomer was signed off the Raiders’ practice squad early on in the season. He looked fast and was always around the ball, finishing the year with 75 total tackles (second-most on the team), including six stuffs (tied for third-most on team), three forced fumbles, two pass deflections, one sack and one fumble recovery in 13 games. He received a +81.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.

The best thing that Toomer brought to the team was his ability to tackle. It was a sight to see after years of Manti Te’o failing to do that very thing. At one point, Toomer led the Chargers in total tackles four consecutive weeks (Weeks 9-13). The 28-year-old did slow down at the end of the year, though, racking up just 14 total tackles in the final four games combined.

Meanwhile, Te’o, a 2013 second-round pick, missed 13 games after tearing his Achilles. He just hasn’t been able to stay on the field during his four-year career. Te’o, who turns 26 in January, is an unrestricted free agent in 2017, so it’ll be very interesting to see which player they retain; but Toomer has proven to be more valuable–and faster–at this point. Again, the Chargers shouldn’t throw all the money in the world at him after one solid year (especially with the players stated above already on the roster), but a one- or two-year deal is fair.

Nov 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (15) makes a reception ahead of Miami Dolphins defensive back Tony Lippett (36) during the second half at Qualcomm Stadium. Miami won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dontrelle Inman (RFA): Honestly, you could mix and match between Toomer and Dontrelle Inman. Each player made their mark in 2016 and hopefully can be brought back on good deals. But if I had to choose one, I’d go with Toomer because of need–and that’s why Inman lands at No. 3.

Inman could make his case for the overall better player in 2016. He played and started in all 16 games, finishing the year with 58 receptions for 810 yards and four touchdowns, all of which were career highs. The problem is, wide receiver is very deep going into next season, and the Chargers put a lot of money into said position after signing Travis Benjamin to a four-year, $24 million deal and extending Keenan Allen to a four-year, $45 million deal last offseason.

But even though it may be a position with a lot of depth to start, Chargers’ wide receivers always seem to get hurt. Original starters Allen and Stevie Johnson missed majority of 2016, so Inman and second-year pro Tyrell Williams saw more playing time–and both proved their worth. But with Allen, Johnson, Williams and Benjamin all signed on to play next season, will Inman be expendable?

Let’s face it: He’s not a game-changing receiver. He had his moments, but he’s at best a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. Unless Johnson, who will be in the final year of his three-year, $10.5 million deal, gets cut, Inman won’t be a big priority. Bringing the 28-year-old back on a cheaper deal would be great, but another team in desperate need of a receiver could make him a nice offer. That said, the Chargers could place a second- or third-round tender on the four-year pro. Either way, the Chargers could reel in pending free agent Alshon Jefferey (unrealistic?), or find a better replacement in the draft (hello Mike Williams, Corey Davis and Cooper Kupp).

*Remaining RFAs to let walk: G Kenny Wiggins, WR Isaiah Burse, NT Ryan Carrethers, RB Andre Williams, S Adrian Phillips, TE Asante Cleveland, DT Tenny Palepoi, TE Sean McGrath

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