2015 NFL Offseason: San Diego Chargers

San Diego Chargers (Last Year: 9-7)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Stevie Johnson, OT Joseph Barksdale, OT Chris Hairston, G Orlando Franklin, DE/DT Mitch Unrein, CB Jimmy Wilson, CB Patrick Robinson, KR Jacoby Jones.

Early Draft Picks:
RB Melvin Gordon, ILB Denzel Perryman, CB Craig Mager, DE/OLB Kyle Emanuel. Chargers Rookie Forecast

Offseason Losses:
RB Ryan Mathews, WR Eddie Royal, G Chad Rinehart, C Nick Hardwick, DE/OLB Dwight Freeney, ILB Reggie Walker, ILB Andrew Gachkar, CB Shareece Wright, S Marcus Gilchrist.

2015 San Diego Chargers Offense:
There were rampant rumors this offseason that Philip Rivers would be traded to the Titans for the No. 2 overall pick. There was speculation that Rivers wouldn’t want to move to Los Angeles, and even his former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson called it “very valid.” Rivers, however, was not dealt anywhere, so he’ll be the Chargers’ starting quarterback for at least one more year.

Rivers won’t turn 34 until December, so he should have at least one strong season left in the tank. He was exceptional in 2013, but saw his numbers decline a bit in 2014 – yardage dropped from 4,478 to 4,286; YPA fell from 8.2 to 7.5; completion percentage slipped from 69.5 to 66.5; interceptions rose from 11 to 18 – but that’s because his offensive line wasn’t as strong this past season. It’s been proven that Rivers’ success relies heavily on how well he’s being protected, so the Chargers absolutely had to make sure that they improved his blocking this offseason.

The front office appears to have done enough. General manager Tom Telesco began by signing Orlando Franklin away from rival Denver in free agency. Franklin has been an outstanding guard for the Broncos, so he’ll be a massive upgrade over Johnnie Troutman, who was absolutely atrocious last season. The other guard position appeared to be in doubt after the draft, but San Diego managed to secure former Rams’ tackle Joseph Barksdale, who will push right tackle D.J. Fluker inside if he’s able to secure the starting job. Barksdale floated around in free agency because right tackle-only players are a dime a dozen, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a capable starter.

Elsewhere on the offensive line, King Dunlap will continue to man the blind side after signing a 4-year, $28 million contract this offseason. Meanwhile, the one concern remaining up front is at center. Nick Hardwick retired, leaving the unproven Chris Watt in his place. Watt was chosen in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, so while he has potential, it’s unclear how he’ll play.

While Rivers has to be excited about the improved offensive line, he’s probably even more thrilled about the weapon Telesco obtained in the first round this past April. San Diego moved up to snag Melvin Gordon, who is easily the most talented running back on San Diego’s roster since Tomlinson retired. Compared to Jamaal Charles, Gordon can go the distance any time he touches the ball, and he’ll also be able to effectively run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. Gordon is exactly the sort of weapon Rivers has been wishing for the past few years.

Rivers’ other primary weapons remain the same; Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen will dominate the targets. Gates had a resurgence last year, hauling in 12 touchdowns. Given his injury history, however, that was likely a fluke. But even if Gates regresses, the athletic Ladarius Green can easily step in and become an intermediate threat. Allen, meanwhile, saw his yardage drop from 1,046 to 783 in 2014. Allen dealt with some injuries, so he should be able to rebound, especially given that he’s expected to see more action in the slot with Eddie Royal no longer on the team.

Speaking of Royal, someone will have to replace his production (62 catches, seven touchdowns). Malcom Floyd, 34 in September, is unlikely to do it. Stevie Johnson, signed this offseason, has a shot. However, the most intriguing player is Dontrelle Inman, a 6-foot-3 receiver who came out of nowhere to catch 12 passes for 158 yards in the final two games of the year.

2015 San Diego Chargers Defense:
While the Chargers made some major changes on offense, they didn’t really do much on this side of the ball. Eight of the 11 starters will be returning, and the three who left were among some of the worst players in the opening lineup.

Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, cornerback Shareece Wright and safety Marcus Gilchrist are all gone, but they won’t be missed. Freeney registered just 3.5 sacks in 2014 and wasn’t going to improve as a 35-year-old. San Diego didn’t obtain anyone this offseason to replace him, but that’s because the front office spent last year’s second-rounder on Jeremiah Attaochu, a promising pass-rusher out of Georgia Tech. Attaochu collected a pair of sacks in limited action as a rookie. He’ll line up across from Melvin Ingram, a talented but injury-prone player who has never lived up to his potential because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

As for the two secondary players, Wright and Gilchrist were both anemic in coverage, so their departures could benefit the team. Wright actually wouldn’t have started to close out the year had 2014 first-rounder Jason Verrett not torn his shoulder. Verrett, who had been playing well prior to getting hurt, was in the opening lineup for a couple of games before going down. He’ll emerge as a full-time starter in his sophomore campaign across from the stellar Brandon Flowers.

Gilchrist’s replacement, meanwhile, will be either Jahleel Addae or newly acquired Jimmy Wilson. Addae is just a marginal talent, while Wilson started for the Dolphins last year and was just adequate. Either player will be targeted often, given that All-Pro Eric Weddle will be playing on the other side.

San Diego’s top defensive draft choice was a second-rounder used on Miami inside linebacker Denzel Perryman. There’s a chance Perryman will crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later; he’ll definitely be inserted if Donald Butler continues to play like he did this past season, when he struggled in every aspect. Perryman would have to play all three downs because Manti Te’o, the other starting inside linebacker, is just a two-down defender. Te’o is good at what he does, but he would be a liability in too many passing situations.

One area that the Chargers should have addressed is the interior of the defensive line. Nose tackle Sean Lissemore proved to be very pedestrian this past season. The front office did nothing to replace him, so he’ll continue to start next to Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget. Liuget is fine, but Reyes needs to improve his game. After a promising rookie campaign in 2012, he has been an abomination the past couple of seasons. San Diego signed former Bronco Mitch Unrein to challenge Reyes for a starting job, but Unrein isn’t exactly a promising alternative.

2015 San Diego Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Chargers didn’t surrender or score any touchdowns on special teams, but they were outgained on punt returns and were equal to the opposition on kickoffs. They signed return specialist Jacoby Jones to perhaps to change that.

Nick Novak hit 90 and 91.9 percent of his field goals in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but was just at an 84.6-percent clip in 2014. On the bright side, he did drill 3-of-4 tries from 50-plus.

Punter Mike Scifres is great at pinning the opposition inside its own 20, but he was just 18th in net yardage last year.

The Chargers seem to have a balanced schedule. For every Detroit, Pittsburgh, Green Bay or Baltimore, there’s a Cleveland, Chicago, Jacksonville or Miami (home).

2015 San Diego Chargers Rookies:
Go here for the Chargers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2015 San Diego Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 San Diego Chargers Analysis: The Chargers’ window is closing. With Philip Rivers’ future beyond 2015 in doubt, and Eric Weddle heading into his contract year, this might be the team’s final chance. They’ll definitely have a shot at making the playoffs if Rivers is protected well, but the defense doesn’t seem strong enough to help the team advance very far.

Projection: 8-8 (2nd in AFC West)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Chargers could trade Philip Rivers for Marcus Mariota. Regardless, they need to upgrade the offensive line and running back stable for whichever quarterback is starting for them next year. Another running back, pass-rusher and cornerback are needed as well.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Chargers are the only Marcus Mariota-eligible team that won’t be downgraded for not trading for him. That’s because they still have an awesome signal-caller in Philip Rivers. It’s still questionable whether Rivers will make the dreaded move to Los Angeles – former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson called Rivers’ retirement threats “very valid” – but San Diego will at least have great quarterbacking play in 2015.

The Chargers made sure to give Rivers a weapon, selecting Melvin Gordon in the first round. I discussed in my NFL Draft Grades page why trading up for him was unnecessary, but the fact remains that San Diego now has a Jamaal Charles clone in its backfield. If he lives up to the hype, Gordon will help the Chargers’ offense immeasurably.

San Diego had just four other picks because of the trade, and it was a mixed bag. I liked the Denzel Perryman and Kyle Emanuel selections, but Craig Mager was a reach, though he did potentially fill a need for cornerback depth.

The Chargers came away from this draft with a couple of decent potential starters next season in Gordon and Perryman, but I wasn’t a major fan of the class because the front office neglected the offensive line entirely. Rivers struggled last year because of pass-protection issues, and those now figure to linger in 2015.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

15. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers: B- Grade
Chris Berman is gushing about this pick. I’m not as crazy about it. I don’t know why the Chargers leapt the Texans and gave up a fourth-rounder in the process because the Texans were not going to take Gordon. Still, this is a somewhat decent choice, as Gordon will provide a big boost out of the backfield. The Chargers had no consistent running game with Ryan Mathews gone, so this definitely makes sense, as Philip Rivers needs all the help he can get as he enters the final years of his career.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

48. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami: A- Grade
Denzel Perryman could’ve gone earlier than this – I had him sneaking into the first round of my mock draft after hearing there was some interest – so I like this pick. Perryman could start at inside linebacker as a rookie, displacing Donald Butler, who was downright awful in 2014. It could be argued that the Chargers could’ve used a blocker for Philip Rivers or a pass-rusher to get after Peyton Manning, but it’s hard to hate this pick.

83. Craig Mager, CB, Texas State: C+ Grade
This is a bit too early for Craig Mager – I had him as a fourth-round prospect – but the selection makes sense to me. The Chargers had no chance in a meeting against the Broncos last year when their cornerbacks were injured, so San Diego had to find some depth at the position.

153. Kyle Emanuel, DE/OLB, North Dakota State: B Grade
Kyle Emanuel is one of the more athletic edge players in this class. The issue with him is the level of competition, as he’s coming out of North Dakota State. Still, the Chargers need another pass-rusher on the exterior, so perhaps they’ll be able to develop Emanuel to eventually become a starter.

192. Darius Philon, DT, Arkansas: C Grade
I like Darius Philon as a prospect; I had him being chosen a bit earlier than this. The problem with this pick, however, is that Philon doesn’t project as a good fit in the 3-4. He’s an ideal three-technique in the 4-3, so I’m not sure how he’ll be able to play in San Diego’s scheme.

Season Summary:
The Chargers appeared as though they would be legitimate Super Bowl contenderes when they began the season 5-1, but they sputtered after that, as Philip Rivers was hurt and the offensive line let the team down. Rivers got healthy for a stretch, but then re-injured himself. As a result, San Diego dropped three of its final four games, just barely missing out on the playoffs.

Offseason Moves:
  • Chargers sign OT Joseph Barksdale
  • Chargers sign OT Chris Hairston
  • Eagles sign WR Seyi Ajirotutu
  • Broncos sign ILB Reggie Walker
  • Chargers sign CB Patrick Robinson
  • Chargers sign DE/DT Mitch Unrein
  • Chargers sign WR Stevie Johnson
  • Cowboys sign ILB Andrew Gachkar
  • 49ers sign CB Shareece Wright
  • Chargers sign CB/S Jimmy Wilson
  • Jets sign S Marcus Gilchrist
  • Bears sign WR Eddie Royal
  • Eagles sign RB Ryan Mathews
  • Chargers cut G Chad Rinehart
  • Chargers re-sign C Trevor Robinson
  • Chargers sign G/OT Orlando Franklin
  • Chargers re-sign CB Brandon Flowers
  • Chargers cut ILB Reggie Walker
  • Chargers sign WR/KR Jacoby Jones
  • Chargers re-sign OT King Dunlap
  • Chargers announce retirement of C Nick Hardwick

    Team Needs:
    1. Left Tackle: The Chargers need to bolster Philip Rivers’ protection if they want to make it back to the playoffs. It begins at the left tackle position, where the average King Dunlap happens to be a free agent. An early draft choice could help remedy this problem if Dunlap isn’t retained. Re-signed King Dunlap; signed Chris Hairston

    2. Two Guards: Both of San Diego’s guards were brutal this past season; Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman formed one of the league’s worst guard duos. San Diego will have to heavily emphasize this position this offseason. Signed Orlando Franklin

    3. Center: The center position will also need to be looked at, given that Nick Hardwick, an impending free agent, told the media that he’s retiring.

    4. Two Cornerbacks: The Chargers’ No. 1 priority on defense is re-signing Brandon Flowers, who was exceptional for them this past season. Once that’s done, they should pick up another corner, perhaps in the middle rounds of the draft. Re-signed Brandon Flowers; signed Patrick Robinson and Jimmy Wilson

    5. Nose Tackle: San Diego definitely could use a better nose tackle to help improve the team’s poor run defense.

    6. Running Back: There’s a legitimate chance the Chargers will use their first-round pick on a running back. Ryan Mathews is an impending free agent, and Branden Oliver, while impressive at times, can’t handle the workload on his own.

    7. Wide Receiver: The Chargers may actually need two receivers, but I’m interested to see what they have with Dontrelle Inman, who shined down the stretch. Eddie Royal is an impending free agent, while Malcom Floyd will turn 34 in September. Signed Stevie Johnson

    8. Rush Linebacker Depth: The Chargers may want to add another pass-rusher with Dwight Freeney heading into free agency.

    9. Defensive Line Depth: Some help could be added on the defensive line, especially given how much Kendall Reyes struggled in 2014.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Orlando Franklin, G/OT, Broncos. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers (5 years, $36.5 million; $20 million guaranteed)

      Orlando Franklin’s transition from right tackle to left guard was a successful one; though he was heavily penalized, he surrendered just one sack and blasted open huge running lanes for C.J. Anderson. Franklin’s versatility will help him on the open market.

    2. Joseph Barksdale, OT, Rams. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers

      Joseph Barksdale is a decent right tackle. He blew open big running lanes for Tre Mason this past season, but struggled a bit in pass protection, surrendering seven sacks.

    3. Jacoby Jones, WR/KR, Ravens. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years, $5.5 million)

      Jacoby Jones was cut for financial purposes, as the move saved the Ravens $2.5 million in cap space. Jones simply was too expensive because he’s solely a return specialist at this point in his career. He’s a talented returner – he scored a touchdown last year, and he handles both kickoffs and punts – but that’s all he is.

    4. Stevie Johnson, WR, 49ers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years)

      Stevie Johnson struggled in his new home this past season after being acquired from Buffalo for a fourth-round pick. However, that could have been because of the combination of Colin Kaepernick’s ineptitude and Jim Harbaugh’s indifference, thanks to his stupid front office undermining him. I could see Johnson bouncing back, but then again, he could be done, too.

    5. Patrick Robinson, CB, Saints. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers (1 year)

      Patrick Robinson was torched early in the 2014 season, but he performed much better when asked to handle nickel duties.

    6. Chris Hairston, OT, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with Chargers
    7. Jimmy Wilson, CB/S, Dolphins. Age: 29. — Signed with Chargers (2 years)
    8. Mitch Unrein, DT, Broncos. Age: 28. — Signed with Chargers

    San Diego Chargers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Brandon Flowers, CB, Chargers. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Chargers (4 years, $36 million)

      I have no idea what the Chiefs were thinking by putting Brandon Flowers into a scheme that didn’t fit his strengths. He used to be a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback for them, and he regained that status this past season in San Diego.

    2. Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Eagles (3 years, $12 million)

      Ryan Mathews is good when he’s actually on the field, but he’s constantly injured. That could always change – Fred Taylor went from being known as “Fragile Fred” to being reliable late in his career – but until proven otherwise, Mathews is considered to be made of glass.

    3. King Dunlap, OT, Chargers. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Chargers (4 years, $28 million)

      King Dunlap shocked the world by playing extremely well in 2013. He took a step backward this past season, but was still a solid blind-side protector, especially down the stretch.

    4. Nick Hardwick, C, Chargers. Age: 33.
      Announced retirement

      Nick Hardwick has been an excellent center for so many years, but he’s coming off a serious neck injury and turns 34 in September. He previously told the media that he was considering retirement, so this latest malady could convince him to hang up the cleats for good.

    5. Dwight Freeney, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 35.
      Dwight Freeney put a decent amount of pressure on the quarterback, as his sack total wasn’t indicative of how well he played in that regard. Unfortunately, he’s 35 as of February.

    6. Eddie Royal, WR, Chargers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Bears (3 years)

      Eddie Royal has served as a solid slot option for Philip Rivers, catching a combined 15 touchdowns over the past couple of seasons.

    7. Marcus Gilchrist, S, Chargers. Age: 26. — Signed with Jets (4 years)
    8. Shareece Wright, CB, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with 49ers (1 year, $4 million)
    9. Rich Ohrnberger, C/G, Chargers. Age: 29.
    10. Andrew Gachkar, ILB, Chargers. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys (2 years)
    11. Chad Rinehart, G, Chargers. Age: 30.
    12. Trevor Robinson (RFA), C, Chargers. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Chargers (2 years)
    13. Doug Legursky, G/C, Chargers. Age: 29.
    14. Reggie Walker, ILB, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with Broncos
    15. Willie Smith, OT, Chargers. Age: 28.
    16. Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, Chargers. Age: 28. — Signed with Eagles


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