So, here we are again. The Chargers are drafting earlier than they should, getting less interest from big free agents than they want, and the only big signing they’re poised to make is bringing back one of they’re own (Joe Barksdale) in a deal that’s so un-sexy it’s easy to overlook just how underrated the signing is.
If you feel a tinge of deja vú, Chargers fans, you have every right. After all, you’ve been here before. You’ve watched big names flock elsewhere, spent too many hours looking at mock drafts, and gradually allowed your mind to become a prisoner in an NFL Draft wonderland of which Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are the ruthless kings.
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But, before you allow yourselves to do that, I hope you’ll indulge me for just a moment and consider this wild use of hyperbole (or is it?): this NFL free agent class might boast the most talented bargain bin of players in league history. Okay, maybe it was hyperbole. But, at the very least, it’s one that should suit the Chargers’ individual needs as well as any I can remember. And, if the market breaks right, the Chargers might be able to get quite the bang (er, Bolt?) for their buck.
Bargain Bin #1: Alfred Morris
Okay, I agree – running back is not the team’s biggest need. We just spent a first-round draft pick on Melvin Gordon, and though many are doubtful that he will ever be worth what the team spent, I myself have written on this blog about the importance of exercising patience and allowing him the freedom to develop.
Jan 3, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris (46) runs against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr (39) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Washington won 34-23. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
But, I’ve been wrong before. And for a team hellbent on making un-sexy, underrated signings, no player would be more fitting than the recent Redskins cast-away, who has simultaneously excited and bored fans with his “4-yards-per-carry-and-not-an-inch-more-or-less” approach to the game.
Morris must know, at this point, that he’ll never be accepted as a feature back in this league – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The league’s mindset on running backs has been trending in the direction of the committee for some time now, and in Morris, the Chargers would find a high-character, high-production workhorse to fill a backup role in which Donald Brown never quite found his groove. At best, he provides a big-bodied, short-yardage option capable of anchoring long, clock-chewing drives to cement victories. At worst, he is able to pick up slack wherever Gordon falters, help minimize the burden placed on Woodhead’s shoulders, and bring a characteristically consistent competence to the pass-protection game – something no team can ever have enough of.
Bargain Bin #2: Cameron Wake
True – this guy may not turn out to be as much of a bargain as I believe he will be, but given today’s news of the Dolphins/Mario Williams marriage, Wake’s age and recent injury render him completely expendable for an intrepid Miami defense. And if they do let him go, well, as they say: one man’s trash is another man’s long-awaited, backfield-busting pass rusher.
A pairing with Wake would undoubtedly draw comparisons to the ultimately ineffective Dwight Freeney pairing in 2013. And while the similarities are there — advanced age, recent injury to name a few — so, too are the differences.
Oct 29, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Upon Dwight Freeney’s arrival in San Diego, he was already a year removed from the dominant style of play that made him a household name. For Cameron Wake, that simply is not the case. Wake terrorized backfields in the early days of the 2015 campaign, averaging a sack a game over the seven he was healthy enough to play. He displayed elite quickness, effective speed, and though it may be assumed that the combination of his achilles injury and age will hinder his ability to provide those traits over the course of a sixteen game season, the reality of the Chargers’ depth chart is that barring an injury elsewhere, he wouldn’t be asked to.
The Chargers have invested quite a bit in their outside linebackers, and in the 2015 campaign, those investments did not disappoint. Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu seemed to find their grooves last season. They were consistently on the field, regularly in the backfield, and disruptive to opposing quarterbacks… which is exactly why the team could benefit from a player like Wake. Both Ingram and Attaochu have lengthy injury histories. They’ve often been unable to suit up on Sundays, and though last season presented a (relatively) clean bill of health for the pair, their health (like the health of any NFL player) remains a concern — one that could be avoided altogether by bringing a presence like Wake to the pass-rushing stable.
Wake may not come cheap (if he does come at all), but if the market allows for it, his addition would go a long way towards ensuring that one of the few bright spots in a dismal 2015 season doesn’t become a weakness simply because of depth.