LA Chargers: Revisiting the Russell Okung for Trai Turner swap


Just one year and nine days ago today, the LA Chargers and Carolina Panthers agreed on a trade that would swap two offensive linemen:

At the time, the trade was deemed a “fleecing” of the Panthers by many in sports media. Russell Okung’s 2019 season was affected by blood clot issues and consistent lower-body injuries. The Chargers were getting off of a pricey $13 million 2021 contract that they didn’t want. In return, they were taking a shot on the upside of Trai Turner.

In retrospect, the Panthers actually had a similar thought process. Turner posted the lowest PFF grade of his career in 2019 and allowed six sacks. Sure, Turner had been a five-time Pro Bowl guard, but Carolina’s front office clearly thought he was in decline.

While 2019 was his “worst” year, it’s important to remember that it was still quite a bit better than what the Chargers were getting out of their offensive line play.

Like Okung though, Turner had trouble staying healthy during his last seasons in Carolina. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, the former Panthers’ guard missed three games in each season. Perhaps if he was playing another position, missing three games wouldn’t be too bad. But it’s crucial for the offensive line to stay as healthy as possible throughout the year for continuity.

The LA Chargers-Carolina Panthers trade in retrospect:

We’ve written about Turner’s 2020 season and release quite a bit on Bolt Beat, but how did Russell Okung’s 2020 go? Okung played at a higher level than Turner at a premium tackle position, but he could not escape the injury bug. Lingering calf and groin injuries would cost him nine games of the 2020 season, missing just about the same amount of time as Turner.

Turner has already hit the free-agent market as a result of being released by the Chargers. Okung will likely join him on the same market, barring an unlikely Panthers’ extension. Both linemen seem to be past their primes with injury issues.

The trade can be described as the rare deal that helped neither team. At the same time, it was a low-risk move. While Chargers fans are disappointed that Turner wasn’t the answer at right guard, the team saved over $11 million dollars for the beginning of 2021 free agency next week.

For the Panthers, the deal still made sense to try. They had one less year of a contract to deal with for Okung in comparison to Turner. From a coaching staff and team perspective, the thinking behind the move was sound as well:

Some factors in play here: * Carolina hired Okung's position coach Pat Meyer away to be their OL coach this offseason* Okung could mentor the young players Carolina already has at OT – notably 2019 second rounder Greg Little* Okung is under contract for one more season

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 4, 2020

While the trade was viewed as a steal for the LA Chargers last year, it became clear that both teams were trying to move on from their injured linemen while taking a shot at the potential upside of someone new.

Both Carolina and Los Angeles also knew that there was very little long-term financial risk in the deal, a factor that maybe people should’ve paid more attention to at the time.

Next. Five bold Chargers FA predictions

Perhaps this sounds crazy, but I’d actually still do the trade if I was Tom Telesco going back in time. Okung was never a long-term answer for the Chargers, but maybe there’s a simulation of the 2020 season where Turner doesn’t get hurt. Either way, the Chargers would’ve had an extra $12 million to spend in free agency or a productive 2021 Turner at right guard.