San Diego Chargers' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaFeatured Columnist IIIMarch 2, 2015

San Diego Chargers' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The San Diego Chargers enter March with a little over $30 million to spend in free agency, which is the most general manager Tom Telesco has seen since he took over in 2013.

    The first two years on the job forced Telesco to stick to a strict budget, but now that he has the funds, are the Chargers preparing to make a splash in free agency? 

    Maybe, but it doesn't feel like it.

    It would seem that the blueprint to winning free agency isn't based on how many new players San Diego can bring in but rather how many it can keep. The Chargers currently have 15 players preparing to hit the open market on March 10, many of whom started for them last season.

    Read on to find out how the Bolts win free agency.

Re-Sign Flowers, Gilchrist in the Secondary

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    The secondary alone has three starters with expiring contracts: cornerback Brandon Flowers, cornerback Shareece Wright and safety Marcus Gilchrist.

    Gilchrist had the second-most tackles (76) last season, and Flowers and Wright tied for the team lead in pass breakups (10). Flowers also led San Diego in interceptions with three.

    Flowers, a 2013 Pro Bowler, is an obvious choice to retain, but he may be looking to test the market for the biggest payday. With the league's 12th-highest cap space coming into play, the Chargers should be able to meet those demands. 

    And while Wright has produced steady tackle numbers and pass breakups the past two seasons, injuries have prevented the former third-round pick from completing a full 16-game season. He may be one to let walk if push comes to shove.

    Gilchrist, on the other hand, hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2011. The experience taken from playing alongside All-Pro Eric Weddle the past two seasons has shown up often for the 26-year-old, and he continues to develop as a playmaker in the turnover department. Gilchrist seems like a no-brainer to keep, but at the same time, third-year man Jahleel Addae is making it harder and harder every year to keep him out of the starting lineup.

Bring Back Mathews on a Short-Term Deal with Incentives

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    The Chargers are a better team when Ryan Mathews is in the starting lineup—it's a fact.

    San Diego averaged 122.8 yards in 2013 when Mathews played every game compared to 85.4 yards last season when Mathews played in only six games. As frequent as his injuries may be, Mathews makes the Chargers a more balanced offense when he's on the field.

    That said, a short-term deal with incentives seems like the best approach. ESPN's Adam Caplan touched on the situation in an interview with Darren Smith of The Mighty 1090 AM (h/t Eric D. Williams of ESPN):

    The leverage is clearly with the Chargers based on his injury history. The one thing though in his favor is that they have no one who is ready to take over. They don’t have anyone. [Branden] Oliver is a nice story, but he’s more of a change-up. [Donald] Brown is a nice No. 2 back, a good third-down back, but he’s not a starting running back. 

    The committee thing is just not going to work. You’ve got to be able to run it. Running back is a position you can fill in the draft. You’d like to bring him back. I think he’d be better off taking a one-year deal with the Chargers, having a great season and seeing what he can do. He’s still a young running back.

Keep Royal or Replace Him

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    Over the past two seasons, no Chargers receiver has more touchdowns and catches of 20 yards or more than Eddie Royal, which is reason in itself to bring him back in 2015. Furthermore, he played a key role in luring former college teammate Brandon Flowers to San Diego last June. Maybe Royal could sell him on a few more years together?

    It's worth a shot.

    However, if the Chargers decide to move on from Royal, there might be some options available to satisfy their need for a slot receiver next season. Randall Cobb is at the forefront of that discussion, though he is reportedly seeking a deal of around $9 million per year, according to ESPN.com's Rob DemovskyBleacher Report's Chris Simms suggested San Diego as a potential landing spot for Wes Welker. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk did the same with Percy Harvin, assuming the New York Jets release him.

    Given his production, I can't see a scenario where the Chargers willingly let Royal go. He took a pay cut of $1 million just to stay in San Diego last season. There's no reason money should be an issue.

Add a Pass-Rusher

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    San Diego's 26 sacks in 2014 were a disappointment given that Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram played more than they did in 2013 when both suffered season-ending injuries. Ingram finished second on the team with four sacks, and Freeney followed with 3.5.

    With Freeney's situation up in the air after deciding to play another season, per U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken, and second-round pick Jeremiah Attaochu still developing, the Chargers need to go after an established pass-rusher to round out the position. Some names to consider are Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds and Philadelphia's Brandon Graham. Worilds and Graham don't have the same draw as big names such as Justin Houston or Brian Orakpo, but the cost is expected to be slightly cheaper.

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports estimates Worilds' value to be around $7.5 million per season, and Graham is reportedly seeking the same amount, per CSNPhilly.com's Geoff Mosher. Between the two, Worilds has the better production over the past two seasons with 15.5 sacks, while Graham is just starting to get in a groove with 5.5 sacks last season.

Address the Offensive Line

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    Retaining left tackle King Dunlap was a big first step in fixing the team's problems on the offensive line, but there's still room for improvement.

    San Diego can tend to the O-line with draft picks and still go the free-agent route. Dunlap is proof that one man's trash is another man's treasure. The Eagles dumped him in 2013, and Telesco picked him up for two years not knowing that he'd grow into a starter—a good one at that—down the road.

    The Eagles released veteran offensive lineman Todd Herremans last week after 10 seasons with the club. The 32-year-old doesn't plan on retiring and fully intends to play elsewhere in 2015, as Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported. Herremans played every spot on the offensive line except for center during his stint with Philadelphia, but his most recent starts have come at right guard.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Herremans was rated 57th out of 78 guards in 2014 (h/t Bryn Swartz of Bleacher Report). At the very least, he can give the Chargers some quality starts while they develop a replacement.

    *Cap-space info according to overthecap.com.

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