NFL free-agency talk is in full swing and as fans look toward the 2018 season, it’s always fun to speculate as to which players their team could bring in. But teams have their own free agents as well and the first decisions as the signing period approaches revolve around which players to keep and which players to move on from.
The Los Angeles Chargers have several key free agents this offseason and we intend to examine each decision the team will have to make here at Bolt Beat. Here, we look at reserve running back Branden Oliver.
Undrafted out of Buffalo in 2014, Oliver impressed enough during that summer to make the team. When Donald Brown went down during the season, he became the Chargers’ primary back and finished the season as the team’s leading rusher.
Still, the Chargers decided to use a first-round pick on a running back the following year, taking Melvin Gordon out of Wisconsin. Oliver missed half of the 2015 season due to injury and all of the 2016 season after tearing his ACL during the preseason.
In 2017, Oliver took a back seat to another undrafted rookie, Austin Ekeler. He finished the season with just 83 yards rushing. He was listed as an inactive on game days multiple times.
So, does the team still need his services?
The Chargers have Gordon and Ekeler in place, as well as Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow and Russell Hansbrough on the roster. Farrow spent the season on injured reserve last season and both Williams and Hansbrough will find it tough to make the team next year as the Chargers should be expected to bring in at least one running back through the draft or undrafted free-agent process.
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Still, I don’t feel Oliver will be back nor should he be. He’s missed time due to injuries and didn’t seem to be the same player last year, which is what helped open the door for Ekeler, who is the perfect complementary back to Gordon.
Having a bellcow runner in Gordon and a great change-of-pace runner in Ekeler who is a tremendous receiver out of the backfield, the Chargers already have what they want. All the team needs is a reserve or two to provide depth and it doesn’t make sense to pay Oliver more than the $750,000 he made last year on a new deal.
If he isn’t signed by another team once free agency starts, the Chargers should keep Oliver’s number handy, but his time in Los Angeles has likely come to an end. He played in just eight games last season, meaning he was a healthy scratch for half of the team’s games.
That’s a solid indication that Anthony Lynn doesn’t have much need for him and has already moved on.