2016 NFL Offseason: San Diego Chargers

San Diego Chargers (Last Year: 4-12)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Travis Benjamin, G/C Matt Slauson, NT Brandon Mebane, CB Casey Hayward, S Dwight Lowery.

Early Draft Picks:
DE Joey Bosa, TE Hunter Henry, C Max Tuerk, ILB Joshua Perry. Chargers Rookie Forecast

Offseason Losses:
RB Donald Brown, TE Ladarius Green, G Johnnie Troutman, DE/DT Kendall Reyes, ILB Donald Butler, ILB Kavell Conner, CB Patrick Robinson, S Eric Weddle.

2016 San Diego Chargers Offense:
If the Chargers don’t make another deep playoff run with Philip Rivers, they’ll truly regret some of their inactions during the early portion of this decade. They neglected the offensive line for far too long, and Rivers has taken quite a beating as a result. They tried to atone for their mistakes last offseason by signing Orlando Franklin, but that didn’t matter. San Diego’s line sustained too many injuries, so it was the same old story in 2015.

Will things change this upcoming season? They certainly could, but if they don’t, the Chargers could regret passing on Laremy Tunsil with the No. 3 pick. Tunsil would’ve made so much sense as a replacement for the injury-prone King Dunlap, who wasn’t even that good when he was in the lineup last year. Dunlap struggled immensely to shield Rivers’ blind side, and yet his replacements were even worse. Tunsil could’ve taken over the starting job at some point this year, effectively guaranteeing that Rivers would have improved blocking.

Coming out of the draft, things were status quo for San Diego up front. Orlando Franklin and D.J. Fluker, both of whom missed time as well last season, were set to reprise their roles as the starting guards. Like Dunlap, both struggled in action last year, but have the talent to rebound if they can manage to stay healthy. Right tackle was solidified by the Joseph Barksdale re-signing. Retaining him was huge, as Barksdale was the sole reliable player protecting Rivers last year. The center position, meanwhile, appeared to be a huge liability, but the Chargers caught a big break when the Bears inexplicably cut Matt Slauson in early May. San Diego wasted no time scooping up Slauson, who will prove to be very valuable because he can play both center and guard. Slauson performed well in 2015 and didn’t cost very much against the cap, so it’s a huge mystery as to why Chicago released him.

If Dunlap, Franklin and Fluker can stay healthy, Rivers will be able to carve up opposing secondaries with a couple of new weapons. The Chargers signed Travis Benjamin away from the Browns, who is coming off a 68-catch, 966-yard campaign. Benjamin told the media that he signed with San Diego because he wanted to play with a better quarterback, so it sounds like he’ll be motivated, unlike some other free agent receivers who have signed with other teams. Benjamin will start across from Keenan Allen, who was enjoying a brilliant 2015 campaign – 67 catches, 725 yards in eight games – prior to suffering a lacerated kidney. It was nice to see Allen play so well after struggling in 2014. He admitted that he gained weight and grew complacent, but that he finally figured out what it took to be a professional receiver.

Of course, Rivers will continue to throw to old reliable Antonio Gates, who turned 36 this offseason. Gates had some big games in 2015, but sprained his MCL in late October and never recovered. Having him healthy will be a nice bonus, but the Chargers won’t be able to count on that happening. That would explain why the front office spent a second-round selection on tight end Hunter Henry. The Arkansas product was considered to be the best player at his position in the class, so he should be a viable replacement for Gates if the veteran gets hurt again.

Speaking of injured players, Melvin Gordon is coming off microfracture surgery, so San Diego shouldn’t expect anything significant from him this year. Gordon endured a miserable rookie campaign, mustering just 641 rushing yards and no touchdowns on a 3.5 YPC average. It’s difficult for any running back to come back from microfracture surgery, but perhaps this is a blessing in disguise. San Diego’s offense was so lethargic with Gordon on the field last year, and there was a vast improvement when Danny Woodhead was used instead.

2016 San Diego Chargers Defense:
As if the injury issues to the offensive line weren’t enough, the Chargers maintained an atrociously porous defense that couldn’t stop the run whatsoever. While Gordon averaged 3.5 yards per carry, opponents were picking up chunks on the ground at a 4.8 clip. This was quite apparent when Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware ripped right through a horrific ground defense to prevail in a 33-3 blowout victory in San Diego. It was a truly embarrassing defeat, especially given that the Chargers were coming off a bye, and it was clear then that things had to be rectified.

Two moves were made to perhaps improve the rush defense. First, Brandon Mebane was signed away from the Seahawks. Mebane is a solid, but unspectacular player. He’s been a viable run-plugger, but there were better options available. Mebane will fill in at nose tackle, starting next to Corey Liuget, another Charger who endured injuries in 2015. Liuget labored through foot and knee maladies and had his worst season as a result. The good news is that Liuget is down 25 pounds, so perhaps being in better shape will help him stay healthy. If so, Liuget and Mebane will be joined on the defensive line by the second acquisition, Joey Bosa. The Ohio State product was seen by many as an overrated commodity, but was pushed up because of the glaring lack of talent in the 2016 draft class. Some in the media have compared Bosa to J.J. Watt, which is just ridiculous because the two play different positions. In fact, Bosa is out of position in a 3-4. San Diego’s style makes the transition easier, but Bosa would’ve been a better fit in a 4-3. Bosa actually would probably be best as an edge rusher in a 3-4, but San Diego will use him on the front line.

Of course, there isn’t much room for Bosa on the edge, which made the draft pick confusing at the time. The two starters at the position are Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu, who were both solid this past season. Ingram especially played well, and it was a surprise that he was able to stay on the field for all 16 games; Ingram missed 19 total games in 2013 and 2014, but was in much better shape entering the 2015 campaign. Attaochu, meanwhile, recorded six sacks. The 2014 second-rounder turned just 23 this offseason, so the sky is the limit for him.

Ingram and Attaochu will need to be better (and healthy) in 2016 because the secondary experienced regression at one of the positions. Star safety Eric Weddle is gone after the Chargers treated him poorly. Dwight Lowery, formerly of the Colts, was signed on to be a replacement, which is an enormous downgrade. Lowery was a big liability for Indianapolis, so he and the oft-penalized Jahleel Addae will undoubtedly struggle.

Fortunately for the Chargers, they nabbed an upgrade elsewhere in the defensive backfield, signing Casey Hayward away from the Packers. Hayward struggles to tackle, but he’s excellent in coverage, so he’ll definitely provide a boost at the position, which already sported two talented players in Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. The latter performed well in 2015, but the same can’t be said for Flowers, who admitted to the media that he grew complacent after signing a $36 million contract last spring. Flowers has shed a dozen pounds this offseason, so he appears to be set for a bounce-back year.

Rounding out the defense, San Diego made a nice adjustment in the middle of last season to replace the atrocious Donald Butler with rookie Denzel Perryman, who proved to be quite the upgrade in run support. Perryman figures to improve in his second NFL campaign, though the same can’t be said to the other starting inside linebacker, Manti Te’o, who struggled immensely last year.

2016 San Diego Chargers Schedule and Intangibles:
Thanks to a dwindling fan base, San Diego has absolutely no homefield advantage. The team is 15-25 as a host since 2011 and was just 2-6 at home last year.

The Chargers were atrocious on special teams in 2015. They were outgained by a vast margin on kickoffs and punt returns.

It was a bit ironic that Josh Lambo kicked in front of no fans. Lambo went 26-of-32, including an impressive 4-of-5 from 50-plus. However, he whiffed on four extra points.

Punter Mike Scifres used to be great at pinning the opposition inside its own 20, but struggled in that regard last year. He was also just 27th in net average.

The Chargers seem to have a balanced schedule. For every Indianapolis, Houston or Carolina, there’s a Cleveland, Tampa Bay or Miami.

2016 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.

2016 San Diego Chargers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 San Diego Chargers Analysis: If the Chargers stay healthy, they can win the AFC West and make a deep push into the playoffs. That’s a big “if,” however, given San Diego’s dubious injury history. It’s more likely than not that several key San Diego players will go down, prompting the team to struggle as a result.

Projection: 7-9 (Tied 3rd in AFC West)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Chargers have two simple goals in the 2016 NFL Draft: Improve Philip Rivers’ pass protection to avoid a repeat of both 2014 and 2015, and bolster the defense with a couple of play-makers, particularly in the secondary. Eric Weddle is gone, and San Diego can replace him with its No. 3 overall pick.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It’s amazing that no one knew what the Chargers were going to do at No. 3 overall leading up to the draft. People speculated Ronnie Stanley, DeForest Buckner and Jalen Ramsey, but no one had Joey Bosa. And quite frankly, no one had it because it didn’t make much sense. Bosa doesn’t speculate to transition poorly into the 3-4, but he’s more of a 4-3 player. Plus, there were better prospects available.

The Chargers got off to a bad start, and they didn’t improve much more after that. I liked a couple of their mid-rounders – Joshua Perry, Jatavis Brown – but that was about it. Aside from Bosa, who is guaranteed to help them this year? Hunter Henry will, but only if Antonio Gates gets hurt. Max Tuerk might not be recovered from his injury. Perry will have to wait for Manti Te’o to leave.

With Philip Rivers entering the twilight of his career, San Diego had to obtain players who could help the team win now. I don’t think the front office accomplished this, and I just don’t understand why the team barely focused on the offensive line and secondary.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

3. Joey Bosa, DE/OLB, Ohio State C Grade
Wow. No one had this. Everyone we polled around the league had DeForest Buckner, Jalen Ramsey, Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley. No one we polled, and no mock-draft analyst predicted Bosa. I’m so shocked, I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost. Bosa should be a good player, but his fit in a 3-4 is pretty questionable, and so is the decision to take him over DeForest Buckner. The Chargers weren’t going to be able to trade down and get Bosa, but still, this is a reach. Some of Bosa’s off-the-field stuff has to be a concern as well. I’m not a fan of this pick, but I don’t hate it either.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

35. Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas B- Grade
It was expected that the Chargers would take a tight end at some point after losing Ladarius Green to the Steelers in free agency. Hunter Henry is the top tight end in the class, and he was viewed as a high second-round prospect, so this selection makes a ton of sense. The Chargers probably should’ve gone with Myles Jack, but I won’t knock them down too much for it.

66. Max Tuerk, C, USC C+ Grade
This is a bit earlier than expected for Max Tuerk, who is coming off a torn ACL. Tuerk could be a solid center though, and you know Philip Rivers is really hoping so because his protection has been horrendous over the past couple of seasons. Center was the biggest need on the line, but can Tuerk play in 2016? We’ll see.

102. Joshua Perry, LB, Ohio State B+ Grade
It seems like Manti Te’o was just drafted yesterday, but he’s coming up on his contract season, so the Chargers had to find an inside linebacker for current depth and future starting potential. Joshua Perry may eventually enter the starting lineup. He’s a skilled linebacker I expected to be chosen in the third round. This is my favorite pick of San Diego’s thus far from a value perspective.

175. Jatavis Brown, LB, Akron B+ Grade
The Chargers already added an inside linebacker to potentially replace Manti Te’o in 2017, so why add another? I guess they figured that Jatavis Brown was too good to pass up. Brown is a talented linebacker who could’ve easily been chosen a round earlier. The value makes sense, especially considering that Brown projects as a great special-teams player.

179. Drew Kaser, P, Texas A&M C Grade
A punter prior to the seventh round earns an automatic “C” for me, as they can be found on the street. Drew Kaser wasn’t even regarded as the top punter in this class.

198. Derek Watt, FB, Wisconsin C Grade
This is a lot different than Tampa’s fullback pick. While Dan Vitale has great athleticism and a part in an NFL offense, Derek Watt is just a plodder who can only block, and not very well at that. The brother of J.J. Watt will primarily be a special-teamer, in all likelihood.

224. Donovan Clark, G/OT, Michigan State C Grade
The Chargers definitely needed offensive line depth, and it’s actually surprising that they selected just one blocker in the first six rounds. Does this make up for it? I don’t think so. I didn’t have Clark in my top 400, and I don’t know of any publication that thought he’d be draftable. Clark, who toggled between guard and tackle at Michigan State, will have to move inside because of his short arms.

Season Summary:
The Chargers will be in a new city next season, but the general manager, head coach and quarterback will all return. That’s a good thing, as the Chargers had terrible luck this past season in terms of the large volume of injuries they sustained.

Offseason Moves:
  • Chargers sign G Matt Slauson
  • Chargers cut P Mike Scifres
  • Chargers sign TE Jeff Cumberland
  • Chargers re-sign S Jahleel Addae
  • Chargers re-sign OT Chris Hairston
  • Chargers sign CB Casey Hayward
  • Chargers sign S Dwight Lowery
  • Chargers re-sign QB Kellen Clemens
  • Chargers sign DT Brandon Mebane
  • Chargers sign WR Travis Benjamin
  • Chargers re-sign TE Antonio Gates
  • Chargers re-sign OT Joseph Barksdale
  • Chargers cut ILB Kavell Conner
  • Chargers cut RB Donald Brown
  • Chargers cut ILB Donald Butler

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Offensive Tackles: The Chargers missed out on the Laremy Tunsil sweepstakes. Thus, it’s unlikely that they’ll be addressing their primary need, left tackle, in the first round, so it’ll have to be taken care of soon after (or via free agency). King Dunlap can’t be counted on to protect Philip Rivers. Meanwhile, Joseph Barksdale, who had a solid 2015 campaign, happens to be a free agent. Re-signed Joseph Barksdale

    2. Center: Chris Watt proved to be a huge disappointment as a replacement for the retired Nick Hardwick. Barring a signing in free agency, San Diego will have to spend a pick in the first three rounds on this position. Signed Matt Slauson

    3. Nose Tackle: San Diego had a bottom-five run defense, thanks in part to it having absolutely nothing at nose tackle. Finding an upgrade is a major priority. Signed Brandon Mebane

    4. Two Safeties: Both of the Chargers’ safeties will be free agents come March. Eric Weddle already announced that he’s not coming back, and understandably so, while Jahleel Addae will just commit more dumb personal-foul penalties next year. Signed Dwight Lowery

    5. Defensive End: Kendall Reyes is hitting free agency, but it doesn’t matter, as he has been a disappointment for the most part. Another five-technique should be obtained to go along with Corey Liuget.

    6. Tight End: Both Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green are free agents. It goes without saying that this is a major issue. If only Gates is re-signed, a young tight end will be needed. If it’s just Green, some ordinary depth wouldn’t hurt. Re-signed Antonio Gates

    7. Cornerback: San Diego was solid at cornerback last year when everyone was healthy. However, Patrick Robinson’s contract is expiring in March, so someone new will have to be added at the position. Signed Casey Hayward

    8. Wide Receiver: With Malcom Floyd set to retire, the Chargers should think about obtaining a No. 2 receiver across from Keenan Allen. Signed Travis Benjamin

    9. Rush Linebacker Depth: Some help behind Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu should be obtained, especially when considering that Ingram will be a free agent after 2016.

    10. Guard Depth: After what transpired in 2015, San Diego has to think about finding help behind Orlando Franklin and D.J. Fluker.

    11. Backup Quarterback: The Chargers could use a better backup than Kellen Clemens. Adding a young quarterback to groom behind Rivers wouldn’t hurt either.

    12. Kicker: Josh Lambo was 26-of-32 in 2015, which isn’t terrible, but he missed four extra points.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Casey Hayward, CB, Packers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years, $15.3 million)

      Casey Hayward is a terrific cover corner, but struggles mightily when it comes to tackling. He’s only 26 though, so he has plenty of time to improve that aspect of his game.

    2. Matt Slauson, G, Bears. Age: 30.
      Signed with Chargers (2 years)

      It’s a bit puzzling as to why the Bears cut Matt Slauson. He was owed less than $3 million, and he was still playing well this past season. Slauson just turned 30, so it’s not like he’s going to completely regress in the next couple of years.

    3. Travis Benjamin, WR, Browns. Age: 26.
      Signed with Chargers

      Travis Benjamin entered the season as a mere situational deep threat. He blossomed, however, emerging as a viable No. 2 receiving option.

    4. Brandon Mebane, DT, Seahawks. Age: 31.
      Signed with Chargers (3 years)

      Brandon Mebane dealt with a groin injury early in the season, but got healthier as the year progressed. He was strong to close out the 2015 campaign, being solid in all regards.

    5. Dwight Lowery, S, Colts. Age: 30. — Signed with Chargers (3 years)
    6. Jeff Cumberland, TE, Jets. Age: 29. — Signed with Chargers

    San Diego Chargers Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Eric Weddle, S, Chargers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Ravens (4 years, $26 million)

      Eric Weddle isn’t coming off his best season, as he was hindered with some injuries throughout the 2015 campaign. However, he’s still one of the top safeties in the NFL. Weddle, who turned 31 on Jan. 4, should still be able to play on a high level for three or four more seasons, as safeties tend to perform well into their mid-30s.

    2. Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Steelers (4 years, $20 million)

      Ladarius Green was never able to officially pass Antonio Gates on the depth chart, but perhaps he was one season away from doing so. Green, who is highly athletic, performed well when starting for the suspended Gates at the beginning of 2015.

    3. Joseph Barksdale, OT, Chargers. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Chargers

      Joseph Barksdale was the one constant in San Diego’s battered offensive line. He’s not great, but he’s a pretty steady right tackle with no weaknesses in his game.

    4. Patrick Robinson, CB, Chargers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $12 million)

      Patrick Robinson has gone through a roller-coaster career thus far. He was a first-round pick in 2010 and played well at times, but he also struggled enough to get benched in New Orleans. Robinson performed well for the Chargers in 2015.

    5. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers. Age: 36.
      Re-signed with Chargers

      Antonio Gates had a pair of brilliant seasons in 2013 and 2014, but this most recent one has been ravaged by injuries. He couldn’t even get open against the Raiders in Week 16, and Oakland struggled versus tight ends all year. Gates will turn 36 in June.

    6. Kendall Reyes, DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Redskins (1 year, $2.5 million)

      Kendall Reyes was a second-round pick back in 2012. The Chargers have been waiting for him to have a break-out campaign, but it has never happened. Perhaps he’ll do it elsewhere. He’s only 26, so he still has time.

    7. Jahleel Addae (RFA), S, Chargers. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Chargers

      Jahleel Addae might actually be a half-decent player if he only cooled it down with his stupid personal-foul penalties, which he seems to commit twice per game.

    8. Donald Brown, RB, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Patriots
    9. Donald Butler, ILB, Chargers. Age: 27.
    10. Johnnie Troutman, G, Chargers. Age: 28.
    11. Chris Hairston, OT, Chargers. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Chargers
    12. Kavell Conner, ILB, Chargers. Age: 30.
    13. Ricardo Mathews, DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Steelers
    14. Mike Scifres, P, Chargers. Age: 35.
    15. David Johnson, TE, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Steelers
    16. Damion Square, DE/DT, Chargers. Age: 27.
    17. Jeff Linkenbach, OT, Chargers. Age: 29. — Signed with Jaguars
    18. Joe Mays, ILB, Chargers. Age: 31.
    19. Kellen Clemens, QB, Chargers. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Chargers

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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