3. Safety Adrian Phillips
Because of the poor play by the Chargers’ linebackers, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was forced to play dime defense for majority of the season. In other words, he used an extra defensive back.
Enter Phillips, a 2014 undrafted free agent who has spent his entire four-year career with the Chargers. In the first six games of the season, Phillips played more than 20 percent of defensive snaps just once (Week 5). He was one of the team’s key special teamers, as he played more than 80 percent of snaps on special teams in four of those six games.
Then things flipped. In Phillips’ final eight games of the year, he played at least 50 percent of snaps on defense in every game but one. He left Week 16 with an injury and sat out the season finale. He still contributed on special teams during those nine games, but his snaps dropped significantly in that department. He finished the year with 63 combined tackles, sixth-best on the team, and five pass deflections, tied for fifth-best on the team.
However, Phillips was Pro Football Focus’ 71st-ranked safety for the season. Grades aside, Phillips definitely brought more to the table this past season than in his previous three seasons combined. He was valued as a run-stopping safety-linebacker, playing 98 percent of run snaps within eight yards of the line of scrimmage. He had his moments in pass coverage, too.
I think the Chargers will place a second-round tender on the 25-year-old Phillips, but is that the right move? Unlike McCain, he played more of a role on defense; but McCain has more potential, which is why I’m comfortable with giving the latter a second-round tender. Also, Phillips’ role will likely be reduced if the Chargers upgrade the LB position in free agency or the draft (which they should do). Plus, they drafted safety Rayshawn Jenkins in the fourth round of last year’s draft to play a similar role.
If the Chargers exercise their right of first refusal, they won’t receive compensation but will have the opportunity to match another team’s offer should it happen. Either way, it’s likely Phillips stays.
As for Isaiah Burse, Asante Cleveland, Geremy Davis, Nick Dzubnar, Sean McGrath and Andre Williams, none are worthy of being tendered. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chargers re-sign Davis and Dzubnar to one-year deals after they’ve become unrestricted free agents. Dzubnar is decent on special teams, and Davis would compete for playing time should the Chargers part ways with one of their receivers.