San Diego Chargers' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency
If the San Diego Chargers plan on winning free agency, they'll need to take care of a few things.
As the March 11 deadline approaches for the start of free agency, the Chargers have already begun clearing cap space and re-working contracts.
Donald Butler, the team's top free agent, was signed to a new deal, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, and Eddie Royal had his contract restructured, as reported by Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego. In turn, the Chargers released Le'Ron McClain, Derek Cox and Johnny Patrick.
As a result of the moves, San Diego has added much-needed cap room and the team is in a good position to play an active role in free agency if need be.
Here's how the Chargers win free agency.
Restructure Jeromey Clary's Contract
Jeromey Clary will carry the fourth-highest cap figure on the Chargers roster next season. According to Spotrac, the eighth-year guard will command $6.25 million against the cap in the final year of a $20 million deal he signed back in 2011.
What the Chargers front office needs to decide first is whether to keep him or not. The team could opt to get younger with a replacement through the draft, but you risk breaking up an offensive line that wasn't all that bad last season.
Restructuring Clary's bloated contract is an ideal solution that keeps the unit intact while saving money.
Restructure Jarret Johnson's Contract
Just like the situation with Clary, San Diego has a decision to make with veteran linebacker Jarret Johnson. In his 12th season, Johnson will count $5.5 million against the cap, according to Spotrac, and has two years remaining on a $19 million deal he signed in 2012.
Johnson's production has dropped off the last two seasons with the Chargers, and he set a career low in games played with 11 in 2013. Injuries clearly stifled Johnson, who had missed just two games in his career prior to last season.
Johnson has been a valuable asset to the Chargers defense when healthy, so it would make sense to try and re-work his deal instead of opting for a release.
Re-Sign Richard Marshall
U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken summed up the situation at cornerback for the Chargers in one tweet:
Chargers have five cornerbacks under contract in 2014. Shareece Wright has played 1,086 career defensive snaps. Other four: 57.— Michael Gehlken (@UTgehlken) March 4, 2014
Aside from Wright, the team has little to no experience at the corner position, meaning veteran help should be a priority in free agency. Richard Marshall provides that experience comes at an affordable price for the Chargers.
Re-Sign Rich Ohrnberger
Amid the mess of injuries on the offensive line, Rich Ohrnberger played in 13 games for San Diego and was a key part of the team's postseason win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
When Nick Hardwick was forced to leave the game with concussion-like symptoms, Ohrnberger stepped in at center and helped the Chargers close out the victory on the road.
Ohrnberger will be an unrestricted free agent on March 11, and San Diego has just one other center on the roster for 2014 in Nick McDonald, a second-year player out of Grand Valley State, who was signed to a futures contract on January 16.
Re-signing Ohrnberger won't cost much and he should prove useful after witnessing all the injuries last season.
Make a Decision at Left Guard
Assuming Jeromey Clary is retained at right guard, San Diego essentially has four choices on the left side: Re-sign Chad Rinehart, who started 10 games in 2013, bring in a free agent, play Johnnie Troutman, who started nine games in 2013 or find a starter in the draft.
Rinehart was decent last year, though his injury history caught up with him. A free agent could be another solution, but determining a price that fits under the cap is difficult. Troutman struggled at times last season, but he could potentially develop into a starter with more game experience. The draft has some possible day-one starters, but prospects are never a sure-fire thing in their first season.
Determining what direction the team is headed in at the position will lead to a win in free agency.
Add Help in Free Agency to Glaring Needs
Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego recently provided an update on Malcom Floyd's recovery from a neck injury and acknowledged that the veteran receiver had been cleared by doctors to begin running and light weightlifting. While most fans would greatly appreciate Floyd's return, you have to consider his long-term safety with such a serious injury that could have led to permanent paralysis.
With Floyd in the midst of his recovery with no timetable to return, the Chargers have a glaring need at receiver. Danario Alexander is dealing with his own recovery from an ACL tear, so he's no guarantee to be of help in 2014 as well—Alexander will also be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.
Cornerback is another glaring need for San Diego, following Tuesday's cuts of Cox and Patrick. Nose tackle could just as well be on that list, too, if the Chargers don't re-sign Cam Thomas. All three of these positions are severely lacking with depth, and free agency can provide answers.
The cap room will, no doubt, be tight but there are players within reasonable asking prices. See the full list of free agents here on NFL.com.