Grading the Strength of San Diego Chargers' Roster Heading into Free Agency
With the 2013 free agency period set to commence around mid-March, the San Diego Chargers are undoubtedly in the process of evaluating their roster in order to make the necessary adjustments.
This year will be much different than years' past, though, as new GM Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy attempt to steer the Chargers in the right direction via free agency and the draft.
No unit is perfect, but some require more attention than others when it comes to free-agent signings. In this position-by-position breakdown, a grade will be assigned to each positional unit based on the need for a free agent.
The grading will be as follows: (A: No FA signing needed, B: Minor-to-bargain FA signing, C: Minor FA signing, D: Role player FA signing and F: Impact Starter FA signing)
Chargers' Free Agents: None
Despite his recent struggles, Philip Rivers is the guy to lead the Chargers to a successful 2013. The countless interceptions and infamous fumbles were the result of a player trying to do too much to carry a team on his back, but with Coach McCoy in his corner, Rivers should resume his career as the elite quarterback that he once was.
Chargers' Free Agents: Jackie Battle, Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley
Chargers fans are either worried or completely doubtful of Ryan Mathews' future heading into next season. Two broken clavicles had Mathews regressing in his third year, a huge step backwards from his 2011 campaign. In his place, the trio of Jackie Battle, Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley accounted for 646 yards on the ground and just three TDs.
Running back is in definite need of some help this offseason, but I don't think it warrants the need for an impact starter just yet. If Mathews can come back healthy next season, he should be able to make an impact of his own on the ground. However, I'd still like to see San Diego bring in a guy who can be an instant contributor in a No. 2 role.
Chargers' Free Agents: Seji Ajirotutu, Danario Alexander, Richard Goodman, Micheal Spurlock
If San Diego can retain Danario Alexander this offseason, then I believe the trio of Alexander, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown will be enough firepower for the Chargers to get back their aerial assault.
Last year's free-agent signings of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal finished with 37 receptions for 441 yards and three TDs—a pathetic showing if you consider the numbers they were capable of with their former teams.
The Chargers shouldn't look for help at the receiver position through free agency. As far as I'm concerned, they already have plenty of depth as it is. But, if there's a veteran out there who's willing to sign for a bargain price, then I could see San Diego boosting its experience at the position.
Chargers' Free Agents: Dante Rosario
Surprisingly enough, there's a couple of draft gurus out there that have the Chargers picking up tight end help this April, as most of them believe that Antonio Gates has only a few more seasons left in the tank. While that's a possibility for the 32-year-old, it wouldn't make sense to use a valuable draft pick on a rookie tight end who will play very little next season.
Dante Rosario had his moments in 2012, but he'll be a free agent this year. The only remaining tight end after Gates is San Diego's project player Ladarius Green, who was drafted last year.
The Chargers should look for a minor-to-bargain player here. You need a guy who can come in and produce if Gates has a fit with injury, which he usually does, but you don't want to spend a lot of money and a guy who won't see the field as a starter all that much.
Grade: (C-F range)
Chargers' Free Agents: Brandyn Dombrowski, Tyronne Green, Rex Hadnot, Louis Vasquez, Reggie Wells
In terms of play, the offensive line is a solid "F" right now. Philip Rivers was sacked 49 times last season behind an O-line that shuffled starters on a weekly basis. Jared Gaither is almost guaranteed to be gone next season and both Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green are free agents this year.
So what does San Diego do here?
Well, on the grading scale for free agents, the Chargers are within the "C-F" range. No doubt, Telesco will address the need for offensive line help through the draft but that might be enough. You don't wan't to spend a ton of money on a marquee O-lineman through free agency if you're already going to bring in fresh faces through the draft, but you do want a starter or two at a good price.
My guess is that San Diego will do its best to retain Vasquez and Green, then draft a franchise offensive tackle. I think you'll also see the Chargers possibly go after another tackle through free agency if they don't already add depth through the draft.
Chargers' Free Agents: Vaughn Martin, Aubrayo Franklin
Fans have to be thrilled with the way the defensive front performed in 2012. No, San Diego didn't lead the league in sacks, but it did have a solid rushing defense and a couple of standout pass-rushers.
Corey Liuget, a former first-round pick in 2011, had a breakout year at defensive end, finishing with 51 tackles and seven sacks. Kendall Reyes, a second-round pick from last year, wasn't far behind with 28 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
It was an impressive showing for the group of youngsters, but there was something missing. San Diego's 3-4 scheme lacked a space-eating defensive tackle. Aubrayo Franklin, who was signed through free agency last year, made just 20 tackles and Antonio Garay, who rarely played in 2012, made just 16 tackles.
I'd love to see San Diego pursue a big defensive tackle in the draft, but if that doesn't happen there's some potential in free agency. Aubrayo Franklin is a free agent in 2012, so look for San Diego to add depth up the middle.
Chargers' Free Agents: Gary Guyton, Antwan Barnes, Demorrio Williams, Shaun Phillips
In my opinion, Shaun Phillips is San Diego's top free agent this offseason. The nine-year veteran led the team in sacks in 2012 with 9.5. Until the younger players step it up in the pass rush, Phillips continues to be the most reliable threat against the pass.
Takeo Spikes' career is also in the balance after coming off his 15th season in the NFL. Donald Butler has really come into his own playing alongside Spikes, but his play could suffer if Spikes decides to call it quits.
If San Diego loses Phillips and Spikes, then this unit's grade goes from a B to a D, possibly even an F. Those are two huge holes to fill. I was very impressed with the way Melvin Ingram played in his rookie year, but I'm not so sure he's ready to take one of these veterans' spots yet.
Chargers' Free Agents: Chris Carr, Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer
Cornerback is in serious need of an upgrade in 2013. Starters Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are both free agents this year, and my guess is the Chargers will only bring back one of them. Jammer had the better season last year, but he'll be entering his 12th year in the league.
San Diego should bring in some cornerback help through the draft, but a role player is a definite need. There's a lot of good corners on the market this year, but their price tags may be a bit too hefty for San Diego.
I think it would be money well spent to get a guy like a Marcus Trufant or a Brent Grimes to help out your secondary, but I don't see Tom Telesco spending top dollar in his first year.
Chargers' Free Agents: Corey Lynch
Eric Weddle had another elite year patrolling midfield, and there's no indication that he won't do the same next year. However, SS is a little concerning.
Atari Bigby had a good year in his first season with the Chargers, but a groin injury cut 2012 short for the former Green Bay Packer. Brandon Taylor's knee injury also had fans cringing. The rookie was destined to assume the role of a starter eventually, but his injury is a big setback.
I don't think the Chargers need a free agent just because Bigby and Taylor are in the recovery process, but the injuries do make me a little nervous.
Chargers' Free Agents: Nick Novak
This is a pretty easy scenario here. If the Chargers don't re-sign Nick Novak, then they need to sign a kicker. I don't think too many people wanted to see Nate Kaeding leave midseason after being in San Diego so long, but Novak has done a fine job in his place. I don't see why they wouldn't bring him back.