The San Diego Chargers signed King Dunlap, but the preference would be that he take over at right tackle for Jeromey Clary and not have to protect Phillip Rivers’ blind side. Rebuilding the offensive line remains a top priority in San Diego and Lane Johnson has been penciled in as the pick at No. 11 for months.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, Johnson’s stock has been skyrocketing because of all the moves in free agency. At least five teams in the top half of the draft have a shaky situation at left tackle. If two of the three prospects go off the board early, there could be a bidding war for the third.
Tom Telesco’s first really tough decision as general manager could be deciding how much they would be willing to give up to get Johnson. Projecting the draft can be tough even for NFL teams, so the Chargers have to account for every contingency if it looks like Johnson will not fall to No. 11.
Contingency Plan No. 1: Trade Up
The Chargers have to decide before the draft if they are willing to give up additional draft picks to move up in the draft to get a left tackle. They also have to decide how much is too much if they are willing to move up, because there could be a bidding war between two or three teams.
The teams that could be looking for a left tackle include the Chiefs, Eagles, Lions, Cardinals and Dolphins. If the Chiefs draft No. 1 overall, there’s a good chance Branden Albert finds a home with one of the other four needy teams. That still leaves four teams all looking for a left tackle.
Assuming the Eagles or Lions also draft a left tackle (and not both), that leaves just one tackle on the board with the Cleveland Browns at No. 6 overall. The Cardinals have the seventh pick, and you have to think they will be in the market for a left tackle to protect Carson Palmer.
The Cardinals had one of the worst offensive lines in football last year and they will need adequate protection to enable Palmer to execute Bruce Arians’ deep-passing offense. As such, the Browns will likely shop the pick and move down, which would be very much like the Patriots (new general manager Michael Lombardi spent time under Bill Belichick in Cleveland).
Although they may be inclined to move up one spot to avoid being jumped by the Chargers, the Cardinals don’t have a lot of draft picks to throw around. The Browns will likely get a lot more from the Chargers or Dolphins than they would trying to move up from outside the top 10.
The Dolphins lost Jake Long in the offseason and have a desperate general manager, so they are a serious threat to jump in front of the Chargers, even if one of the left tackles makes it past the Cardinals. The Dolphins have 11 picks in the draft including an extra second- and third-round pick to trade, which means they also have to ammunition to make a deal happen.
According to the trade value chart, the Chargers would have to give up their first- and second-round picks to move up to No. 6 overall, but if they did this they would be overpaying. The only other option the Chargers would have would be trading a lot of future picks or nearly their entire draft, which is highly unlikely. The Cardinals could send the lower of their two second-round picks and another mid-round pick and still land four picks in the top 100.
Contingency Plan No. 2: Trade Down
As much as the Chargers would probably like to land one of the top three tackles, the cost could just be too great. There’s still a chance that one of them falls to No. 11, but if they don’t, the Chargers are actually in a very good position to trade down and acquire more picks.
NFL Insider Pat Kirwan of CBS outlined how picks outside of the top 10 actually are a better deal for NFL teams if they make it to their fifth year. Per Kirwan, players drafted 1-10 can be tendered a fifth-year contract worth the average of the top 10 players at their position, but picks 11-32 can be tendered a fifth year at the average of the top 25 salaries at their position, a significant savings.
A team with a lot of draft picks could target the Chargers as a trade partner to move up and land a top player that slips out of the top 10. If that player ends up being a star, they can be controlled by the drafting club for five years without costing a premium. The 49ers could want to move up and have two picks in the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds as well as four seventh-round picks to trade.
With extra picks, the Chargers could target Terron Armstead or Menelik Watson and still address the secondary and add a pass-rusher in the draft. The Chargers have a lot of needs and any new general manager would love to have more picks to put his stamp on the roster.
Contingency Plan No. 3: Stay Put
The Chargers can still address the left tackle position in the second or third round, which frees them up to add a pass-rusher that drops to No. 11 or take one of the best cornerbacks on the board.
There are plenty of players that will be available at No. 11 that can help the Chargers, especially when the majority of picks in the top 10 might be quarterbacks, offensive tackles and defensive linemen. The Chargers might be in position to draft a very good pass-rusher to replace Shaun Phillips or a cornerback to replace Quentin Jammer.
It’s unlikely that Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo and Ezekiel Ansah all go in the top 10, and there’s a significant drop-off after those three. The Chargers could snag one of those top pass-rushers to pair with Melvin Ingram. The Chargers know that it will be difficult to compete with the Broncos without improving their pass rush and coverage.
The Chargers could also have their choice of the best cornerback in a deep cornerback draft or simply decide to wait on a cornerback and take advantage of that depth. The Chargers could simply let the draft come to them and still be a success.