Feeling Safe At Safety
By Peter Thompson
Dec. 23, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; San Diego Chargers strong safety Brandon Taylor (28) is carted off the field after an apparent injury during the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Chargers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Not a pretty picture, is it? Nothing could be worse than seeing your rookie strong safety hauled off in a golf cart, when it has been such a huge position of need, for so long. What makes it worse, is he barely had any time to prove himself on the field, before the injury. But, Taylor sustained a late season torn ACL, and isn’t expected to be healthy until mid-season… at best. So, what now?
The San Diego Chargers recently made the move to put Marcus Gilchrist at Strong Safety, during camp. This could be a permanent move, until 2012 3rd round draft pick Brandon Taylor gets healthy from a late season torn ACL, and up to NFL speed. It could also be a move to make sure that they don’t get caught with their pants down, should there be no options for a good strong safety in free agency. Today is June 1st, where you can cut players, and spread the dead money over the next two seasons. This opens up more money for our salary cap. Not only will we be making cuts, but so will other NFL teams. Players could become available in the upcoming days, and weeks. Others are already on the market, and have not been signed. At this point in free agency, the prices can drop, because players haven’t been signed. Or, players can demand more money, simply because there isn’t any other decent option out there.
Eric Weddle, who is our best defensive player, has experienced the same type of revolving door that Philip Rivers has. It seems like every year, we are signing another injury-prone stop-gap safety to play next to him. Since we didn’t sign a top safety in the draft, this may be the case, once again. Marcus Gilchrist has been moved from nickel corner, to strong safety. He is a little bit undersized, but is getting the reps in OTA’s, regardless. Jammer was signed by the Broncos this week, so Gilchrist appears to be the short-term solution.
When Tom Telesco came to town, he let our two starting cornerbacks walk. This isn’t too surprising, as their play was less than desirable, resulting in a horrible third down completion percentage.. which is the biggest problem of an otherwise good defense. However, moving Gilchrist over to safety greatly effects the depth at cornerback. We have signed free agent Derek Cox to a starting cornerback role, and Shareece Wright is assumed to be starting opposite. Both have had trouble staying healthy, despite showing that they have talent. The only two cornerbacks worth mentioning behind them are newly signed rookie Steve Williams, and Johnny Patrick. That doesn’t exactly make you want to jump up, and wave your flag in the air. There are hopes that UDFA Cromartie could come in and play well, but is he NFL ready? I am personally not loving the free agent market for cornerbacks right now. It’s possible that more could be cut, and become available in the next few weeks. But, it’s not exactly deep, and the CB’s that are available are old, or just not that good.
If we were to sign a reliable stop-gap strong safety, Marcus Gilchrist could get back to competing with Shareece Wright for the #2 spot on the outside. This would also relieve our depth situation, and Gilchrist isn’t as injury-prone either. Even if he doesn’t beat out Wright, he will almost certainly beat out Williams for the nickel spot. This all makes our secondary much more solid.
Other options MIGHT become available soon. But, let’s take a look at what options are on the market at Strong Safety right now. I’ll throw in some guys who are already on the roster, as well.
Kerry Rhodes: Rhodes is 30 year old Free Safety. However, at 6′ 3 & 212 pounds… he could easily play strong safety. The acclaimed Ex-New York Jet veteran was released by the Arizona Cardinals back in March. In 2012, Rhodes had 58 tackles, 9 assists, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and defended 11 passes. To put a comparison on it, Atari Bigby only had one more combined tackle, and put up goose-eggs in the sack, interception, and forced fumble categories. Not to mention, he only registered 3 defended passes. Clearly, this would be an immediate upgrade. If he could be signed to a one year contract, this would give Taylor plenty of time to recover, could be a better mentor than Bigby was, and would give Weddle the freedom to ball-hawk the backfield! He may have to settle for the veteran minimum, as he hasn’t drawn any attention in free agency. As I said earlier, he would solve the safety, and cornerback dilemma in one swoop. There have been some allegations of Kerry being gay, after a video submerged of him being (presumably) spotted with his “lover”. Rhodes denies the allegations that he is gay. Personally, I couldn’t care less. If he can play better than Gilchrist, then he would be a welcome alternative over Atari “bite on the play action” Bigby.
Quintin Mikell: Mikell is a 32 year old safety, and was released by the Rams this season. Rumor has it that he could possibly be signed back by the team. As of now, he is on the market, and will likely be forced to sign a one year vet-minimum contract, like Rhodes. The Rams are in a similar salary cap situation as we are, and aren’t looking to pay premium prices for safeties this season. Mikell improved in coverage last season and recorded 101 tackles, three sacks, and four forced fumbles. The defensive staff in St. Louis liked him, but were set to absorb a whopping nine million dollar salary cap hit, by retaining him. Could the Chargers possibly play a little ball, and get him over here? It would be yet another welcomed addition, after so much uncertainty at the position, over the last few years.
Atari Bigby: Why am I even putting his name here? I’m probably going to get killed for this. I’m asking myself that same question right now. Mainly, because he might be the next best option, if you ask me. OK… he was released… I get it. I also understand that he wasn’t very good at holding onto the ball in key situations last year, and bit on play action more than a mule bites on a carrot. His stats really weren’t that great with the Chargers for the 2012 season, and he spent a few games on the bench with injury.. as usual. Having said that, if we can sign him to a VERY cheap contract, he would only need to stay healthy long enough for Brandon Taylor to come back. He knows the playbook, he knows Pagano, and he has familiarity with Weddle. I might do it based on this reason alone. He isn’t going to be looking for big money, nobody has shown interest, we can move him to back-up safety as SOON as Taylor is ready to go without feeling that bad about it. The first two guys on the list might not play as well, knowing that they are just a 9 game solution to the problem. If anything, Bigby might be the most likely to stay on the team behind Taylor, and would have the most experience if Taylor needs a breather, or sustains another injury. At the price he could command from the Chargers, it might not be a bad idea to make a move like that. After all, he did wear Bolts last year.
Corey Lynch: Lynch actually paid a visit to the Chiefs recently, which was his first move in free agency. However, the Chiefs decided to sign someone else, instead. Lynch is 28 years old, and started 4 games for the Chargers last season. He did appear in all 16 games for the Chargers in 2012, though. Lynch has gotten a lot of support from the Chargers fanbase this offseason. Much like Bigby, he is someone you could put in there, and expect to give it his all, despite possibly having to yank him back out of the line-up when Taylor comes back. He could be a solid back-up for the Chargers safety position. He recorded 39 tackles, 7 assists, and had 2 interceptions in 2012. Not bad, for a guy who only started 4 games.
Darrell Stuckey: Not hating on Darrell. He is a good special teamer, and created 4 forced fumbles last season (All against Denver), and could be a solid player at safety. He is a little on the short side, but weighs in as heavy as the rest of this group. So, he is a stout little dude. I don’t think he’ll steal the starting role, but he can apparently give Denver fumbling nightmares.. lol. He will definitely bring the level of competition up during camp.
Sean Cattouse: I threw him in here, because he is on the roster. Not sure if he has anything we are looking for at the safety position, until Taylor returns. Maybe one of you can champion his cause, and make an argument that he could be the guy. I don’t want to make this article much longer. He hasn’t even seen the field. Maybe once? Not knocking the guy, just not the answer IMO.
Jahleel Addae: An Undrafted Free Agent safety out of Central Michigan, Addae is another player that Charger fans are eager to see. He weighs in as the shortest, and lightest at 5′ 10″ (actually 5′ 9″ and 3/4), and 195 lbs. He had a 4.65 forty yard dash, a 38 1/2 inch vertical jump, 10 bench presses, and a 10′ 4″ broad jump. Addae was a three-time All-MAC selection and two-time CMU Defensive Player of the Year. He tied for the league lead as a senior with four interceptions, while tallying 89 tackles and being named a co-captain. Addae earned MAC West Defensive Player of the Week honors for his standout play in the Senior Day win over Miami, after totaling 10 tackles with half a sack and an interception. A Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list selection, Addae compiled 302 tackles, including 15 for a loss, and eight interceptions for his career. (Yes… I copied and pasted most of that.. why re-write what others have been so gracious as to research for you?). He has managed to gain the hopes & affections of quite a few fans around here. I’m sure Charger management will have a close eye on him during camp, and preseason. If he plays well, then he could be the perfect soultion until Taylor is healthy.
So, there you have it. A quick look at what is out there in free agency, and what we currently have at the safety position. I will put the complete list of available free agents below, for you all to review. Perhaps there are some “diamond in the rough” or “dark horse” kind of players out there, that you feel deserve a shout out.
Thanks for reading, and Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!
James Sanders (suspended four games)