Which free agents should Chargers target? RB edition
By Matt Pagels
2. Branden Oliver (RFA): Everyone is forgetting about Oliver–and that’s a good thing for the Chargers. Oliver will turn just 26 years old in May, and he has proven once before that he can step up if needed (raise your hand if you remember when he led the Chargers in rushing with 582 yards on 160 carries as a rookie in 2014).
Unfortunately, injuries have held him back the past two years. He missed the final eight games of the 2015 season and missed all of 2016 after suffering a torn Achilles in the preseason.
Why sign him: It’s going to be tough to count on Oliver after two injury-riddled seasons, but who on the roster hasn’t been injured? Also, he has an unremarkable 3.6 career yards per carry. You have to factor in bad O-line play, though, as the Chargers’ unit ranked 29th and 32nd in 2014 and 2015, respectively, per PFF.
That said, he’s familiar with the offense and brings a change of pace. Oliver is small (5-foot-8), but he has the speed, juking and receiving ability you want in a running back. He also adds power, which is rare for his size and a quality that’s needed. A combination of the slippery Oliver and the versatile Burkhead will keep Gordon fresh.
The money: As for the rules, RFA’s can receive a right-of-first-refusal/original-round tender (the lowest), second-round tender or first-rounder, all of which are non-guaranteed one-year deals (2017 numbers aren’t released yet, but here are the 2016 tender amounts). If one team steals a player away from the other, the team that lost their player (should they decline to counter) would be compensated depending on the tender used. As for contracts, players’ negotiations/power is somewhat limited. Examples: Safety Tony Jefferson, who was given the lowest tender last season (and was an undrafted free agent), was not offered a long-term deal from another team, and therefore had to sign his one-year, $1.67 million deal with the Cardinals. In comparison, the Patriots stole WR Chris Hogan away from the Bills after Buffalo declined to match New England’s three-year, $12 million offer.
As for Oliver, he was an undrafted free agent. If the Chargers use the lowest tender on him, which is the route I would go so he doesn’t become an unrestricted free agent, they are entitled to a right of first refusal but would get no compensation. Unless another team makes a wild offer where the Chargers shouldn’t match (which I don’t see happening), expect Oliver to be back on a one-year deal.
Contract: Original tender (*estimated: one-year, $1.7 million deal)