With NFL free agency on the horizon (March 9), we take a look at free agents to upgrade the Los Angeles Chargers. Offensive linemen, you’re on the clock.
(Note: Free agents are chosen based off what Chargers need and can afford)
Notable free-agent offensive linemen: Guards – Kevin Zeitler, Larry Warford, T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, Chance Warmack, John Jerry, Stefan Wisniewski, Luke Joeckel, Brandon Fusco, Patrick Omameh, Jahri Evans, Andrew Norwell (RFA); Tackles – Andrew Whitworth, Russell Okung, Ryan Clady, Riley Reiff, Kelvin Beachum, Matt Kalil, Ricky Wagner, Sebastian Vollmer, Austin Pasztor, Gosder Cherilus, Mike Remmers, Mike Adams, Byron Bell, Menelik Watson
Chargers linemen: King Dunlap (OT), Joe Barksdale (OT), Chris Hairston (OT), Tyler Johnstone (OT), Orlando Franklin (OG), Matt Slauson (C), Max Tuerk (C), Spencer Pulley (OG/C), Donavon Clark (OG), Brett Boyko (OG)
Chargers pending free agents: OG Kenny Wiggins (RFA), OG Kaleb Eulls (ERFA), OT Tyreek Burwell (ERFA)
The Los Angeles Chargers have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL three years running. According to Pro Football Focus, the unit ranked 29th, 32nd and 31st in 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The last time the Chargers’ offensive line ranked inside the top 20 was in 2013 (18th overall). Coincidentally, it was the last time the Chargers made the playoffs.
If the Chargers expect to win in 2017, the line needs to be retooled. There’s no exact science in creating a good offensive line. We’ve seen the Dallas Cowboys do it by drafting well, while a team like the Oakland Raiders made successful upgrades via free agency.
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As for the Chargers, Matt Slauson, a free-agent acquisition last offseason, was the only lineman to make a positive impact. The 31-year-old will be in the final year of his two-year, $4 million deal, but at least the Chargers know they have one above-average starter on the line.
Right tackle Joseph Barksdale, 28, was the Chargers’ top priority last offseason and ended up re-signing on a four-year, $22.2 million deal ($10.5 million guaranteed) following a season in which he was the team’s best lineman, per PFF. Well, he failed to perform at a high level last year. He got burned a lot and was penalized just as much (tied with OLB Melvin Ingram for the most penalties on the team). Barskdale is also one year into his deal, so he’s not going anywhere.
As for former first-rounder D.J. Fluker (UPDATE: Released), injury-prone 31-year-old King Dunlap and free-agent bust Orlando Franklin, their spots are in question.
The Chargers are going to have to make cuts, especially since they have (or had prior to recent cuts) roughly $5-6 million in cap space, per OverTheCap.com (which includes money allocated for 2017 draft picks). Fluker’s release, along with CB Brandon Flowers and WR Stevie Johnson, cleared a good amount of space.
As expected, Chargers announce they've also released CB Brandon Flowers. So it's Flowers, Fluker and Johnson, clearing $19.321M before lunch
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) March 7, 2017
Dunlap could be on his way out following a recent arrest, and while it might be tough to just release a third starter from last season, Franklin has underperformed in his two years with the Chargers. I would expect only one of those two to be released if anything.
The Chargers do have some intriguing youngsters on the roster. 2016 third-round pick Max Tuerk was arguably one of the best centers in last year’s draft but fell because of injury. After the selection, draft guru Mike Mayock said Tuerk was “as good a pulling center as anybody I’ve seen,” which should make run enthusiast and new Chargers head coach, Anthony Lynn, quite happy.
Tuerk redshirted his rookie year, but if he’s 100 percent healthy, bulks up (listed at 298 pounds on the team’s official website) and proves he can hang with the big boys in training camp, Tuerk could start at center and Slauson, who was the perfect mentor a year ago, could move to guard, a position he’s comfortable in playing. Donavon Clark, a seventh-round pick last year, flashed potential before tearing his ACL in the Chargers’ second preseason game. And don’t forget about Spencer Pulley, a 2016 undrafted free agent who fared well as a backup on the interior line. All three will likely compete for a starting position in 2017, even if Franklin is on the roster come camp.
What about the 2017 NFL Draft? Unfortunately, the offensive line class in the draft is a weak one, according to several scouts and analysts. It would be wise not to reach for a lineman in the first round, but expect the Chargers to target one on Day 2 or 3.
On the other hand, there are some solid options the Chargers can choose from in free agency. If the Chargers make any sort of “splash,” it’s best to do so by adding a quality lineman. Let’s take a look at a few players the Chargers should target.