5 Available Free Agents Still Within the San Diego Chargers' Reach
The San Diego Chargers have been fairly quiet in free agency this offseason, but there's still 24 days until the NFL draft, and there are still hungry veterans out on the open market the Chargers could pick up at key positions.
Last year, the Chargers signed Jarius Wynn and Deon Butler in April. (Close your window if the crickets are that loud.) Butler made it to August with the team, Wynn was gone by October. Yes, it was an underwhelming late haul, but the team had done their most important work in March by signing guys like Danny Woodhead and King Dunlap.
Nevertheless, a new year brings a new crop of free agents. Now determining which free agents are still within reach is a bit tricky at this point, and especially so for the Chargers who have an estimated $3.6 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com. This makes for some thrifty shopping. The Chargers also recently re-signed Rich Ohrnberger, which further muddles the cap numbers.
For the purpose of this article, the free agents considered "within reach" have salaries that wouldn't put the Chargers immediately over the hard cap, or players of similar value are signing for contracts that wouldn't have the Chargers hit the hard cap.
So no, the Chargers aren't going to double-down on free-agent running backs and go for Chris Johnson, but a stud defensive tackle like Kevin Williams? He certainly could find his way to San Diego in the coming weeks.
If the Chargers did manage to snag any of the players on this list, they could address some team needs before they phone wide-eyed college players at Radio City Music Hall in May.
Terrell Thomas, Cornerback
The Chargers had one of the weakest pass defenses (29th in yards allowed) in the league last season, and that was largely due to the poor play of Derek Cox, who has been cast off after just one season of play.
The Chargers currently have six cornerbacks on the roster, but the only players with any extensive experience are Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall.
The other four corners on the current roster? Just zero starts and 58 snaps between them, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.
Former New York Giant Terrell Thomas would bring a strong veteran presence to the team. He has struggled with injuries in the past, missing the entirety of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he played in all 16 games in 2013. Before his injuries, he was looking like a potential Pro Bowler, with five-interception seasons in both 2009 and 2010.
Due to his injury history, Thomas could come cheap to the 'Bolts and add competition at a spot that needs the best possible talent to emerge. Ramping up the pressure on the younger players could be good for the Chargers in the long run. Thomas is also a bigger player than either Wright or Marshall and could provide a better matchup against the larger receivers in the AFC West.
Earl Bennett, Wide Receiver
The Charges have one wide receiver spot locked down thanks to Keenan Allen. The starting slot across the from him is likely still up for grabs.
Earl Bennett is a solid receiver who finished last season with 32 receptions for 243 yards and four touchdowns. Not spectacular numbers for a third option, but he did play behind Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall, who between the two of them finished with an astonishing 189 catches in 2013. Simply put, there weren't too many Jay Cutler passes to go around after those two got their fill.
The Chicago Bears decided to release Bennett because he wouldn't take another pay cut, according to Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com. With a $1.25 million base salary in 2013 according to Spotrac.com, Bennett still fits within the Chargers price range.
Malcom Floyd is still a question mark due to his neck injury. Vincent Brown had solid numbers last season (41 catches for 472 yards), but needs to ratchet up his play if he wants to lock down the No. 2 receiver spot. Eddie Royal was highly inconsistent last year as he scored five of his eight touchdowns in the first two games of the season.
If the Chargers don't find anyone they like in the draft, Bennett would be an excellent late addition to the roster. At 27 years of age, Bennett should be just entering his peak years as a receiver. He also has prior experience as a return man and could provide cover for Royal and Danny Woodhead on special teams.
Kevin Williams is a six-time Pro Bowler who would be a huge acquisition for the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers need defensive lineman, and the 33-year-old Williams would provide excellent cover at defensive tackle. His production has declined with age, but he still managed to post 3.5 sacks in 2013 for the Minnesota Vikings.
Williams has been fielding phone calls from NFL teams, but according to Ben Goessling of ESPN, is angling for a promising situation rather than suiting up as training camp cannon fodder.
Williams said he's had several teams call about him, but no offers yet. Wants to make sure it's the right situation, not just a camp battle.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) March 19, 2014
Williams would be just the third true defensive tackle on the roster, as good a signal as any for job security.
Adding a player like Williams would give the Chargers more versatility on the front line. a 4-3 look with Williams as a defensive tackle and Dwight Freeney back in his natural defensive end spot could be devastating.
The drawback is that Williams could be out of the Chargers price range. According to Spotrac, his base salary in 2013 was $4.9 million dollars. However, if Williams is still twisting in the wind at this point with no contract offer, his asking price may come down. According to Nick Mensio of Rotoworld.com, Jonathan Babineaux—a player of similar age and stature as Williams—signed a $3 million dollar per year contract. If the Chargers could convince Williams to play for cheaper than this, it would be quite the coup.
Ryan Pickett, Nose Tackle
The Chargers have just two defensive tackles on the roster right now in Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers.
Ryan Pickett is 34 years old, but is the prototypical bull-rushing nose tackle who does his best work in a four-point stance, as pictured above. His veteran tutelage could benefit Lissemore, who is new to being a full-time defensive tackle, as well as the young Geathers. His signing wouldn't necessarily cause a Twitter frenzy, but Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com recently named Pickett as one of the top remaining players available.
Pickett is healthy for an aging veteran, playing in at least 14 games each season dating back through the 2010 season. At 340 pounds, Pickett would be useful in goal-line situations with the 335-pound Geathers.
Downsides? He hasn't had a sack in the last three years. Fortunately, the Chargers scheme doesn't rely on pass-rushing prowess from its defensive tackles, although Pickett might suffer if the Chargers started throwing more 4-3 looks at teams.
Don't forget, defensive lineman are always the best value at the Free Agent Market, as long as you're looking at price per ounce.
Michael Robinson, Fullback
The Chargers didn't have much need for Le'Ron McClain last year in Ken Whisenhunt's offense. The former Pro Bowler had just 11 rushing attempts and was utilized on just 12 percent of offensive snaps last season, according to Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com.
The axing leaves the Chargers with Zach Boren as the only fullback on the roster.
Should first-year offensive coordinator Frank Reich feel the need to add bodies at this position, the Chargers could pick up former Seattle Seahawk Michael Robinson on the cheap.
Robinson is 31 years old and earns his keep as a throwback run blocker, the type of player who can essentially serve as a third guard out on the field. He's no Lorenzo Neal, but he's a solid player at an NFL position that is going the way of the dodo bird thanks to the emphasis on passing in the NFL.
Robinson had quite the scare in 2013, and despite the fact he lost 33 pounds recovering from a bad reaction to an anti-inflammatory drug (via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), he was good enough for the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks to bring back to pave the way for Marshawn Lynch during the playoffs last year.