What Does Free Agency Tell Us About the San Diego Chargers' Draft Plans?

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystMarch 19, 2013

The Chargers may be targeting a pass-rusher like Jarvis Jones if one of the left tackles isn't on the board.
The Chargers may be targeting a pass-rusher like Jarvis Jones if one of the left tackles isn't on the board.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Chargers haven’t exactly been big spenders in free agency. Tom Telesco signed a tight end, offense tackle, offensive guard, cornerback and a running back as his first major moves as general manager. The only player signed who was one of the best available at his positions was cornerback Derek Cox, but the Chargers also had several key subtractions.  

How a team approaches free agency can be revealing. A team like the Chargers—who will try to draft the best player available—will use free agency to fill its needs. Free agency and the draft combined will often tell you what the new regime thinks of the players on the roster.

Part of the reason that mock drafts should be done purely for fun until just before the draft is that free agency usually changes everything. A team might have a major need at a position and sign the biggest name at that position or sign two players to compete for one spot. The Chargers have now made enough moves to reveal some of their draft plans.


Left Tackle Is Still a Priority

The Chargers signed offensive tackle King Dunlap, but it would be foolish to think that the Chargers aren’t still considering a left tackle in the first round. Dunlap has spent most of his career playing left tackle, but he also has experience on the right side and at guard. It’s Dunlap’s versatility that will benefit the Chargers the most.

There is no guarantee that one of the three left tackle prospects will fall to the Chargers, which means the Chargers needed a decent option at left tackle. If the Chargers never get the opportunity to draft one of the left tackles, they can start Dunlap at left tackle and keep Jeromey Clary at right tackle for another year. If the Chargers do get the opportunity to draft one of the top left tackle prospects, then Dunlap can flip to the right side to compete with Clary.

By filling the need for a tackle, the Chargers now have the ability to go in another direction in the draft. The Chargers had a huge need for a left tackle and would have been a slave to that need in the draft if they didn’t bring in Dunlap. The pressure on the Chargers to move up in the draft would have been tremendous if they hadn’t signed Dunlap and Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher went off the board in the first few picks of the first round.

Worst-case scenario is that the Chargers are forced to start Dunlap at left tackle, Clary at right tackle and they draft a cornerback or pass-rusher. Best-case scenario is they draft a left tackle and Dunlap starts at right tackle. The Chargers can live with either scenario because the team still improves overall. It’s plausible that the Chargers think there is a very real possibility they will never get the chance to draft one of the top left tackles in the draft.


Cornerback Is No Longer a Priority

The Chargers signed one of the biggest names on the market at the cornerback position in Derek Cox. Despite the signing, the Chargers could still use a cornerback or two. Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist are the only other two cornerbacks on the roster who should see significant playing time in 2013, so the need is still there.

Despite a need for another cornerback or two, the Chargers' signing of Cox makes it less likely that a cornerback would be the target in the first round. If the Chargers were targeting Dee Milliner or Xavier Rhodes, they probably would have gone with a second-tier free-agent cornerback who didn’t eat into their cap space as much.

There is considerable depth at the cornerback position in the draft, so the Chargers will likely look to add a cornerback in the second or third round as opposed to the first. There is considerably more value in drafting a cornerback later in this draft. If the anticipation is that one of the left tackles will fall to the Chargers, that’s even more reason to address the cornerback position in free agency.


Rushers on the Radar

If not for a gift from the New York Jets, the Chargers would have been one of the very worst teams at rushing the quarterback in the entire league last season. In fact, the Chargers were one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the league; the sack statistic just doesn’t show it because the Jets decided to start Greg McElroy in Week 16.

If the Chargers don’t land one of the franchise left tackles in the draft, it would be safe to assume they will target one of the pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebackers in the first round. The Chargers let Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes leave in free agency, which means the only rushers the Chargers have is Melvin Ingram and their two defensive ends.

There are more than a few good 3-4 pass-rushers who will be available in the early rounds. Even if the Chargers land a left tackle in the first round, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see them go with a pass-rusher in the second round.

While there are plenty of quality free agents available, there are a lack of pass-rushers whom the Chargers could fit under the salary cap. The Chargers would likely have trouble bringing in a player like Elvis Dumervil strictly because of the cost. It’s much more economical to draft a pass-rusher, especially for a rebuilding team like the Chargers.